Cal, Arizona in Unfamiliar Positions

D1A Rugby: Cal, Arizona in Unfamiliar Positions
Photo Credit: Alex Ho

Cal is the most successful college rugby program in the history of the United States, netting 27 titles since USA Rugby started to keep track in 1980 and comes into this game riding a 15 game winning streak against American college opponents. 

Last year, however, for the first time ever the Golden Bears found themselves in an unfamiliar position. They were on the receiving end of a lopsided loss, 60-5 at the hands of Life University. How will the Bears respond? Are they motivated to avenge a rare loss or was it just another day for the storied program.

The Bears have had a year to marinate on that loss but this year’s team is not focused on the results from last year.

“Last season’s team did really well to get to the final. We’ve won enough to never begrudge the opposition their victories,” said longtime head coach Jack Clark. “We tip our cap to them and move on.”

Rather than viewing that one game as a whole, this year’s squad has taken the approach that one game, sequence or moment does not define you. Rather it is the cumulative experience that players develop over time.

“We have these players for only a handful of years. Every day is a learning experience. Win or lose, we’re always learning something,” Clark added.

Filled with experienced upperclassmen that played in the 2018 final, Cal is poised to make another deep run. Senior captain Nic Mirhasham juniors, Sam Cusano, Damon Wiley and Keanu Andrade all make up a team that fell short last season.

Their next test is conference rival in Arizona. The Wildcats have finished second in the PAC Conference to Cal the last three seasons and are pushing to be in the top echelon of teams. Stopping Cal this weekend will go a long way in getting into the top tier. 

Cal and Arizona have a rich history, and from our victory last fall, to Cal’s victory a few weeks ago, you can see some great young HS players coming in to these programs and continuing to grow,” said Arizona coach Sean Duffy. “You walk around our training pitch guys are smiling and upbeat and we’re thankful to be still playing meaningful Rugby this time of year. There’s no pressure on us, guys are taking their rugby seriously but not taking themselves too seriously, and that’s the perfect balance we want.”

Since coming on board as head coach in 2015 after the unfortunate passing of Dave Sitton, Sean Duffy has brought in a myriad of talented players including Matt Rogers, a 2019 Rudy Schultz Award nominee. Additionally, the Wildcats earned and won their first ever home playoff game in D1A program history. They look to make history once again with a win this weekend.

“We were going well in the first match up, shot ourselves in the foot, and Cal socked it to us during a yellow card. Against a good team like that you have to be more disciplined and I’m looking forward to seeing us do that on Saturday. After the game Tom Billups Assistant to the Head Coach came up to me and gave me a big hug and you can really tell there’s a level of respect between the teams that is special. Going back to Dave Sitton and the legacy he built and now continuing that on this is an exciting time to be a Wildcat,” said Arizona coach Sean Duffy.

Who will ride the day?  An upstart Arizona who has been reaching new milestones or a Cal program bent on getting back to the DIA final? Watch live on FloRugby at 3 p.m. ET.