LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Four of the five teams in the California Conference finished the season in the Canterbury D1A Top 20, including No. 2 Saint Mary’s, which recently played in its fourth consecutive D1A National Championship Final. Needless to say, there is a lot of superb individual talent amongst the California Conference.
Adahir Aguilera – San Diego State: Aguilera was no slouch in the set pieces for the Aztecs, but the junior prop really impacted matches defensively and through his play in the loose. Always a legitimate threat with ball in hand, San Diego State’s vice captain could be one of the conference’s best forwards next season.
Nathan Sylvia – Cal Poly: The Mustangs’ scrum was one of their strengths this season, and Sylvia was its anchor. Several Cal Poly tries this season were set up from its scrum, and the forward pack was able to push two over for tries in its Playoff loss to Air Force. Sylvia, a tight head prop, was also a difference maker when carrying the ball, as well as a sure tackler.
Dino Waldren – Saint Mary’s: Waldren is likely on his way to a third consecutive selection to the USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans, but this season was no cakewalk for the senior. After years playing alongside fellow All-Americans Mike O’Neil and Ryan Pratt, Waldren did well to bring along first-year starters and sophomores Peter Walden and Ethan Waller in the front row. The former football player also recorded a hat trick in the Gaels’ Semifinal victory over Utah.
Henry Hall – Saint Mary’s: Hall was one half of Saint Mary’s senior twin towers in the engine room. Possessing a wealth of rugby experience having played in Canada and New Zealand before arriving in Moraga, Calif., Hall plays with the finesse rarely seen out of college locks, but can back it up with the power needed from a second rower.
Jacob Jorstad – San Diego State: After coming on as a reserve in San Diego State’s conference opener, Jorstad started the rest of the Aztecs’ matches – and for good reason. The freshman backed up his terrific physical attributes with an excellent work rate, and did his part to keep San Diego State in its Playoff game against Davenport by scoring a pair of tries.
Mike Tillson – Saint Mary’s: Tillson may not receive the headlines that some of his teammates do, but the senior lock started every conference and Playoff game this season for the Gaels, and was as consistent a performer as you’ll find in their forward pack.
BACK ROW FORWARDS
Alex Barton – Saint Mary’s: Barton is the forgotten man in Saint Mary’s star-studded back row that includes the team’s captain and one of the best young forwards in the game. Barton doesn’t necessarily dominate any one factor of the game, but he does just about everything on the pitch very well.
John Joe Murphy – Cal Poly: The Mustangs will miss Murphy next year when they take the pitch without the soon-to-be graduate. Cal Poly’s captain carried more than his share of the load from the No. 8 position, and saved his best performance of the season for the Playoffs when he scored two tries against Air Force.
Kevin O’Connor – Saint Mary’s: Simply put, O’Connor is tough as nails. Saint Mary’s captain was an emotional leader for the second-ranked Gaels. Whenever Saint Mary’s desperately needed go-forward ball or a big tackle, O’Connor seemed to be the one to step up and make the play.
Erick Resendiz – UC Santa Barbara: A natural hooker, Resendiz manned the back of the Gauchos scrum from the number eight position because of his added value as a ball-carrier and a tackler. The senior was a bright sport for a winless Santa Barbara side, lifting the team with his play and his leadership as the team’s captain.
Chris McDonald – Saint Mary’s: The Gaels took a hit when All-American scrum half Holden Yungert was lost for the season with an injury. Fortunately for Saint Mary’s, the team didn’t miss much of a beat when McDonald took over. Far more experienced than the average backup No. 9, McDonald made excellent decisions and did well to help link the forwards with the backs in loose play.
Keli’i Dominguez – Cal Poly: Dominguez had played several positions in Cal Poly’s back line before entering his senior season with the Mustangs. So, when asked to move from full back to fly half mid-season due to an injury, Dominguez made the transition with ease. An accurate distributor, the California Conference’s Player of the Month for March also attacks the line with much more strength than one would guess given his smaller frame.
Mike McCarthy – Saint Mary’s: He’s not the largest or loudest Gael, but he just might be Saint Mary’s best. McCarthy ended the season as the team’s first choice at fly half, but he was previously breaking lines and setting up teammates from the centers.
Nick Lupian – San Diego State: The Aztecs’ junior outside center doesn’t have a weakness in his game. Lupian is dynamic on attack and steadfast on defense, but what his coaches enjoy most about him is his team-first mentality.
Alex Wormer – Cal Poly: Wormer is the perfect distributing No. 12 for coach James Tesoriero’s attacking scheme. Also the Mustangs’ strongest tactical kicker, the sophomore will be a big part of Cal Poly’s puzzle going forward.
Jack O’Hara – Santa Clara: Due to injury and signing a contract with PRO Rugby’s San Francisco franchise, O’Hara missed a few game for Santa Clara. However, he was dominant for the Broncos when he was on the pitch, and proved to have plenty of pace and elusiveness for his tall frame.
Alex Pinon – Santa Clara: Pinon played some full back for the Broncos, but was mostly featured at wing. The explosive playmaker had a strike rate of one try per match during the conference season.
Ari Flink – San Diego State: Flink is everything a coach wants out of a full back. He’s a terrific one-on-one tackler, and has great instincts when entering the back line in attack. Just a junior, Flink is expected to be one of the most dangerous playmakers in the conference next season.
Freshman of the Year – Aaron Matthews, Saint Mary’s: The graduation of All-American Kingsley McGowan left a void for a quick-footed playmaker in the Gaels’ back line. Enter Aaron Matthews. The High School All-American began the season as Saint Mary’s fly half, but it was eventually determined that Matthews’ ability to make defenders miss and keep his legs turning in traffic made him more valuable in the centers.
Forward of the Year – Vili Helu, Saint Mary’s: Helu followed up a massive freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign. A big body with incredible athleticism, Helu can play both lock and flanker, but was most lethal playing eight man. After a solid conference season, Helu was brilliant in the Playoffs, scoring a try in each of the Gaels’ three postseason matches.
Back of the Year – Dylan Audsley, Saint Mary’s: Audsley is one of the best players in college rugby. With the strength to run through defenders, as well as the speed to run past them, the senior has an arsenal of skills that make him too much for opposing teams to handle. Also gifted with a strong and accurate boot, Audsley was a point-scoring machine for Saint Mary’s, finishing with 92 points in six D1A matches.