Fall months valuable to the California Conference

D1A Rugby: Fall months valuable to the California Conference
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater (above & homepage)

BOULDER, Colo. – The California and Mid-South Conferences are the two D1A Rugby leagues that play their entire conference schedules during the spring semester. However, the two conferences take vastly different approaches to its fall preparation and training.

Davenport, Life, and Lindenwood have played several nonconference matches in the 15s code, while the teams out west have been playing a lot of sevens. D1A Rugby takes a look at what the squads in the Golden State have been up to this fall.

Cal Poly
The last few months of preparation have been vital to the Cal Poly Rugby program. The Mustangs introduced new Head Coach James Tesoriero in September, who has a difficult task ahead of him in building on the success former lead man Dave Burnett helped guide.

Fortunately, Coach Andy Doukas has relieved some pressure by handling the sevens program this fall – and has done so in a quality fashion. The Mustangs went undefeated in pool play before losing in the Semifinals to Cal at West Coast 7s. Cal Poly would recover from the loss to the Bears by beating Santa Clara to claim third place.

Playing amongst a deep and talented field of teams at the Battle in the Bay, it would be another third-place finish for Cal Poly. The Mustangs went 5-1 overall in San Francisco, and ended the weekend with a convincing 27-5 win over established sevens team UCLA.

Captain Max Tacket has been a physical force for the Mustangs this fall, consistently setting up teammates for scores. Two of those teammates who have found the try zone time and time again have been Matt Long and Mikey Mitchell.

Saint Mary’s
After last fall’s sevens campaign – which included a tournament championship at the Battle in the Bay and a place in the Cup Final at the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship – one would think Saint Mary’s would dominate once again this fall. That has not been the case.

“Sevens this fall took on a very different landscape for Saint Mary’s,” explained Sevens Coach Tony Samaniego. “We decided to make it more about player development of our younger freshman and sophomore players, rather than our more experienced senior players.”

Without the likes of AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Cooper Maloney, Kingsley McGowan, and a host of other players who contributed in the team’s D1A Final victory over Life, the Gaels struggled in the West Coast 7s and finished eighth out of 16 teams at their host tournament – Battle in the Bay. The team did, however, rebound at Stanford 7s, where both Saint Mary’s A- and B-sides went 3-0.

Once again, the Gaels have scheduled the most competitive slate of matches in the entire country. With games against senior club teams Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, Olympic Club, and San Francisco Golden Gate awaiting, as well as home and away series with Brigham Young and Utah, and matches against Cal and Arkansas State, in the books – to go along with its Conference schedule – it is completely understandable why Saint Mary’s coaching staff wanted their first XV to focus on getting physically prepared for a daunting spring.

Santa Clara
After a breakout 15s campaign last spring, Santa Clara’s on-field success from their D1A Playoff run has not carried over to its fall sevens season. The Broncos did manage to go 2-2 at West Coast 7s to finish fourth, but struggled at Battle in the Bay – winning just one match out of five.

It might be safe to assume Santa Clara has been keen on continuing its positive momentum in 15s rather than putting additional time and resources into an attempt to claim a bid to the 2015 College 7s National Championship. Considering the stringent lineup of nonconference matches Santa Clara has put together for the spring – which includes Arizona, Arkansas State, Cal, Colorado, and Stanford – Head Coach Paul Keeler and his staff have a legitimate reason to make sure its entire roster is physically prepared for their upcoming 15s season.

San Diego State
The Aztecs began their sevens season on a high note by winning the California State 7s Tournament and punching their ticket to the 2015 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship. Playing in the much more competitive fields of West Coast 7s and Battle in the Bay, San Diego State failed to produce the positive results they saw at California State 7s, finishing seventh in both tournaments. Providing a spark to the Aztecs sevens side have been senior Frank Ramos and freshman Austin Switzer.

Led by All American Kalei Konrad, the Aztecs have begun to turn their attention to 15s. The No. 17-ranked team in D1A was able to provide valuable minutes to its roster at the recent San Diego City Tournament, where the squad played abbreviated matches against Point Loma, University of San Diego, UC San Diego, and OMBAC.

San Diego State will be able to truly test itself and attempt to build some momentum prior to breaking for the winter holiday season with looming matches against No. 7 Air Force and 2014 Division I-AA Semifinalist University of San Diego.

UC Santa Barbara
Being on an academic quarter system, Santa Barbara did not assemble as a team until the first week of October. Since that time, the Gauchos have been hard at work in order to improve on a disappointing 2013-14 campaign.

The team had no shortage of sevens matches, having participated in UCLA 7s, West Coast 7s, and the Battle in the Bay. These tournaments provided Santa Barbara the opportunity to test itself against some of the finest college programs in the country, as well as spare plenty of minutes to the less-experienced members of its roster.

Like a few of their California counterparts, the Gauchos have begun to devote their training efforts to the 15s code and had recent matches against Grunion Rugby Club and Santa Barbara City College.

“We were able to identify some talent,” said UCSB Head Coach Tim Lewis. “These are guys that should contribute to the first team in the winter when we compete in the SEC of college rugby – the D1A California Conference.”