Amid season of uncertainty, new Bears seek old results

A young Cal rugby team will look to do its best to replicate a stellar 2011 season, which ultimately resulted in a 21-14 win over BYU for another national title.
Michael Gethers/File
A young Cal rugby team will look to do its best to replicate a stellar 2011 season, which ultimately resulted in a 21-14 win over BYU for another national title.

Every season, the ultimate goal for Cal rugby is to win yet another national championship.

And while that remains true for the 2012 season, how the Bears will go about doing so remains to be determined.

A year after winning the USAR Premier division national championship over BYU, Cal announced in December that it would be withdrawing from the division — just a year after its inception. The decision was based on multiple factors, but the timing of championship tournament appeared to be the tipping point.

“As it turned out, we played during our reading week, final exams and graduation,” coach Jack Clark said. “It was an unacceptable compromise. It was difficult to explain to parents why they weren’t going to see their son in a cap-and-gown ceremony.”

With their exit, the Bears follow Ivy League champions Dartmouth as well as LSU and Tennessee. Cal could meet up with those teams in May if the team chooses to compete for the old Division I national championship — which Clark has cited as a definite possibility. However, at this point in time Cal hasn’t decided on which route it will take in the 2012 postseason.

But before they start thinking too far ahead of themselves, the Bears have some major growing up to do and will need to plug up some major holes.

“We’re pretty inexperienced, and we just need to get more games under our belt,” sophomore Pat Coleman said. “Everyone’s just got to get used to the system and get on top of it.”

The Bears are coming off their second straight undefeated and untied season but will look to replace 15 graduated players, including six All-Americans and nearly two-thirds of the side that took down BYU in the national championship game.

More than half of Cal’s 2012 roster is comprised of underclassman, including 17 freshmen, all of whom will be looking to show that they deserve a shot at filling the void left by last year’s departures.

But the Bears won’t be citing youth as an excuse for unsatisfactory results. The Bears will also return three All-Americans, including senior prop Jeremy Deterding, who was key in winning a crucial scrum to seal Cal’s national title in 2011.

“We always have a goal of constant improvement, and any drop off would be a big disappointment for this team,” senior Connor Ring said.

While Clark will certainly look to keep on extending his team’s current 58 match win streak for standard 15’s, he’s more immediately concerned with getting the younger guys plenty of playing time and experience as quickly as possible.

“This is mission improvement,” Clark said. “There’s not going to be a lot of talk about results.”

The schedule for 2012 is nearly the same as a year ago, including the annual home and away series with the University of British Colombia and a matchup with Utah in Salt Lake City. And if those younger players continue to improve and find ways to fill in the gaps, Cal could be poised to see similar, if not identical, results from 2011.

“They’re coming along,” Clark said. “They just need to play. They’re going to feel more comfortable as time goes along.”

While replicating what the team did in 2011 is somewhat of a daunting task, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

It just remains to be seen as to what kind of road the Bears will take in their quest for a 27th national championship.

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  • Malty17

    BYU had a solid team this year and would probably have beaten Cal anyway. Had hoped to see another Cal v BYU game, but alas. Maybe next year.

  • number 16

    Coach Clark runs a quality program that goes beyond wins and losses. His teams are disciplined, responsible in the classroom, high achievers both within school and outside, and train and play with a dedication not just to themselves, but to their university and with respect for the game of rugby. And believe me, this team doesn’t back away from anyone….never has and never will. If BYU, or anyone else wants to play Cal, then they can negotiate a place in the schedule, and I am confident that Cal will play them anywhere, anytime. Envy and bitterness sure have some sad affects on some people:)

  • Cmon now

    “It was difficult to explain to parents why they weren’t going to see their son in a cap-and-gown ceremony.”

    Here is how you explain that, Coach Clark. “Your son wouldn’t even be at Cal or graduating from Cal if it was not for rugby. So go grab you blue and gold scarf and get your butt in the stands.” Done and done.

  • Melynda92

    The USARugby men’s competition committee has declared Cal ineligible for the D1-AA competition that is currently underway. So no, it is not a possibility.

  • Guest

    Sorry, but this is just a chicken-sh!t move on their part. Nobody should be buying the “I couldn’t explain to Mom, why Johnny couldn’t walk in his cap-and-gown ceremony” BS. The Bears are YOUNG and inexperienced… and it just so happened to be the year that BYU is primed for a National Championship run. And magically Cal all of the sudden is worried about playing during finals and graduation, when the rugby magazine article clearly states they played “Eleven freshmen were among the all-underclassmen starting lineup” when they beat Santa Clara 83-7 last weekend… So what Jack must be saying now is that all of his Seniors didn’t play THAT game because they were preparing to walk for graduation in 4 months… right??? What am I missing…????Pretty funny as it turns out that D1AA will have the finals during the same time of year as D1A, which is one week after their graduation. Its even at the SAME LOCATION… I’ve lost all respect for that man and that program. Cal Graduation = May 12th 2012D1A (CPD Schedule)Finals – May 19th 2012 – UtahD1AA ScheduleFinals May 18th -19th 2012 – Utah

    • utrugger

      Couldn’t have said it better. It’s the same ol’ Jack.  Why did they keep BYU out of the finals for 20 years…so Cal wouldn’t run the risk of losing to BYU.  Same story, different chapter.

  • guest

    Should play in the men’s Super League they could easily win that!

    • cold truth

      hah. no they couldn’t