NOLA Gold Under 18s 2024

NOLA GOLD Under 18's Team Trip to Hendersonville, TN 2024

The weekend wasn’t defined by the scores on the board but by the effort, the sweat, and the unyielding spirit of the NOLA Gold U18 team. They embarked on a journey to Hendersonville, a young team from five high schools in the greater New Orleans area, stepping onto the field against some of the toughest competition in the nation. Their opponents were not just teams; they were powerhouses. The Thunderbirds, an all-star squad doubling as the Chicago Hounds MLR academy team, boasted the best players from five states and over 100 high schools. The USA South Panthers, with a similar program, select players from across the Sunbelt states, regularly facing international competition and traveling abroad for matches.

From the moment they arrived, the odds were steep. The first game was a trial by fire, a 70-0 blowout at the hands of the Thunderbirds. Yet, the NOLA Gold U18s remained resilient. The team regrouped, returned to the hotel, analyzed their mistakes, and devised a plan for the next game, which was less than two hours away. Back on the field for a quick warm-up, they faced their next formidable opponent with renewed vigor. Casey Rodriguez of Jesuit led the way with his strong carries and explosive ruck support – a beacon of hope in a daunting storm. Implementing feedback from coach and NOLA Gold pro player Cian Darling, our players held their opponents to just two scores in the first half. Junior Jack Holley relentlessly executed try-saving tackles, earning him the defensive player of the weekend. Though they fell in the end, the improvement was undeniable, and the spirit was unbroken.

Saturday ended with the boys holding their heads high, ready to face the USA South Panthers all-star team the next day. Over a meal, Coach Cian analyzed the previous games, identifying flaws and strategizing for Sunday. At 9:00 am, anticipation filled the air as the Gold team took the field for the tournament’s final game. The opening whistle against the Panthers saw Dante Doughty of Warren Easton setting the tone with a bone-rattling tackle, earning him the “hit-stick” award of the weekend. Early in the game, the Gold marched down the field to the goal line, only to have the Panthers skillfully turn over the ball. But the Gold forwards, fueled by determination, continued their strong carries down the field. With a head full of steam, Maverick Trimble from Brother Martin broke through multiple tackles and scored the first points for the Gold, igniting the sideline in applause.

As the game progressed, the Panthers pulled ahead with skillful plays, but the Gold would not yield. Neil Lookingbill’s booming box-kick and Caleb Williams’ relentless pressure forced a turnover near the Panthers’ goal line. An expertly executed goal-line play saw Jack Holley break through to score the Gold’s second try. With a good kick from Branson Perez of Brother Martin, the score was 19-14 Panthers. The Gold fought hard in the remaining minutes, marching near the opponents’ goal line once again. However, they couldn’t capitalize as the game clock expired, and the final whistle blew. Smiling, they shook hands with the other team, knowing they had played a lights-out game.

The weekend’s tough losses were not setbacks but stepping stones, uniting them as a single, cohesive team. Senior Anderson Happle’s leadership shone through, earning him the MVP title and highlighting his rugby acumen. The Gold’s resilience mirrors that of the buffalo, who don’t flee from the storm but instead huddle together and charge straight through its heart. Their journey was defined not by scores but by their spirit, growth, and determination.