Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reintroducing Coach Vaha Esikia

The 2014 Tobago 7s tour was a near perfect experience of playing rugby in paradise with training (and recovery) on the beach, KB won the grand finale goat race, our women's developmental team made the Plate final vs Heidi's Heroes from the UK, the men went 6-0 in pool play and the reseeded Cup round to make the Cup Final vs Esher from the UK, and the women's elite team won the Cup Final over Atlantis in a 7-5 thriller! The team bonded over copious amounts of fresh coconut water, team skits, boy bands, rookie traditions, ugly Christmas sweaters and breakdancing with the biggest contribution to the Stars Magic coming from the phenomenal coaching staff!


The Tobago 7s tour saw the return of Stars veteran coaches Orene Ai'i and Liam Hutchinson; with 3 teams entered in the competition, Stars added USA Rugby Eagle XVs veteran player & U-20 coach Vaha Esikia to the mix. The balance of personalities, diverse playing experiences, and the impressive collective rugby IQ of these men provided an optimal training and learning environment for our Stars athletes. Looking back a the rosters, while we had a few "stars" of the game, the majority of our players came from D2 & D3 clubs and the college level and the results in a short time is a credit to the coaching.


Vaha and I have known each other for a few years largely by reputation and then via social media chats and in lengthy phone calls discussing the development, growth, and media for his Las Vegas Rugby Academy. I knew his playing history from the 2007 Rugby World Cup and that he had been a valued coach with the the U-20 Junior World Trophy team. He had reached out for feedback on some players and assistance in recruiting from the Midwest for a U-20 camp and we kept in contact. Bringing him on board for Stars was a no-brainer - his personality and dedication to family fits in perfectly with the Stars vibe and I can confidently say that all of our players enjoyed watching him and Orene pair together to take the field for Team Venezuela!

Vaha had committed to the Selects program for the 2015 Las Vegas Invitational and led their Elite 1 side in tournament play. We greatly missed his presence at the Stars compound and so brainstormed the 1st ever STARBQ to benefit his LVRA programming and bring together the Stars players and coaches playing with other teams for the LVI.

The STARBQ has now become a hallmark of our tours and for every tournament we bring together family and friends and raise money for a local youth rugby initiative. That's pure Vaha - rugby family at its finest. I am proud to announce he will return to Stars for the 2nd half of our 2015 touring season to guide the program from August well into the foreseeable future! We'll miss his presence in Calgary.

Here's his bio:

Vahafolau (Vaha) Esikia is a  native of The Friendly Island of Tonga. He has been a resident of the USA since age 5 and began his rugby career while a sophomore at San Mateo High School. He committed to an hour drive to play rugby for Los Altos High School Rugby Club. As a junior he decided to escalate his knowledge and skill by joining the local San Mateo Rugby Club. At the time the SMRC had several former USA National Team players including Alatini Saulala, Vaea Anitoni and Vuka Tau. After high school Vaha put his rugby career on hold and served a 2 year mission for his church. Upon his return he continued with San Mateo Rugby Club before moving to Las Vegas where he joined the Sin City Irish  for one season and continued with the Las Vegas Blackjacks Rugby Club.


His rugby career for the Eagles began in 2006 with selection for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies ITT All-Star 15s in Florida; his performance at the all-star tournament earned him an invite to play for the NA4 Falcons. Vaha received his first Cap for the Eagles against Ireland A and played his last game for the Eagles in 2008 against Ireland A. He earned 17 caps with USA over the course of his international career. He had the honor of being a member of the USA Rugby World Cup Team in 2007 and started as center in all 4 matches.


In 2009 he started his coaching career when he formed the “Las Vegas Rugby Academy” (LVRA). In 2012 he became the backs coach for the Las Vegas Blackjacks and in the same year he also was named the USA U-20 skills coach. In 2013 he was promoted to head coach for Las Vegas Blackjacks and became a licensed World Rugby Educator. Fall of 2014 saw Vaha add coaching UNLV and make his debut with Stars Rugby 7s.


COACHING CAREER
Las Vegas Rugby Academy: Director of Rugby 2009 – Present
USA U-20 Rugby: Skills Coach 2012 & 2013
Las Vegas Blackjacks: Head Coach 2013
     Backs Coach 2012 & 2014
Selects 7s: Elite 7s Head Coach 2013-2015
UNLV: Head Coach 2014- Present
Stars Rugby 7s: Women's Coach 2014
     Men's & Women's Coach 2015 - Present


PLAYING CAREER
International & All-Star:
USA Rugby Men’s National Team XVs
     *17 Caps 2006- 2008
USA Falcons
     *NA4 2nd Place 2006-2008
Pacific Coast Grizzlies XVs 2002-2007
     *ITT National Champions 2002-2005, 2007
     *3rd Place 2006
Pacific Coast Grizzlies 7s
     *ITT National Champions 2002-2004
     *2nd Place 2005 & 2006

Clubs:
Las Vegas Blackjacks 2009-Present
     *2010 USA Men's Division 1 National Champions 15s
     *2009 2nd Place
San Mateo Rugby Club 1996-2003, 2006-2007
     *2001 & 2002 USA Men's Division 1 National Champion 15s
     *2003 2nd Place
     *1998 - USA Club 7s National Champions
Las Vegas Blackjacks Rugby Club 2005
Sin City Irish Rugby Club 2004
Los Altos High School 1995-1998

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