Expectations for the Cal 15s rugby team will be elevated this weekend as it poises to make its home debut in front of a larger-than-usual home crowd because of Parents Weekend. With friends and family in attendance, the team will take on both Arizona and UC Santa Cruz on Saturday afternoon.
Last weekend, the Bears swept their competition in four games at the Dennis Storer Classic in Los Angeles. This unbeaten run included large victories over UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. In the finale, Cal overcame its toughest opponent, UCLA, with a 26-0 shutout.
Cal arguably has the deepest roster in the nation, and the team’s ability to get scores from its array of talented athletes will be on full display this weekend. With a fresh combination of both youth and experience, the team has the chemistry required in order to maintain the high levels of quality and teamwork needed in 15s play.
Once again, Cal will be led by fifth-year senior and flyback Russell Webb, its phenomenal captain. Webb will be joined in the backline by centers Anthony Salaber and Patrick Barrientes, who are also fifth-year seniors. Although Cal has lost some extremely talented backline players to graduation, the gaps in the line have been filled by emerging talents who are ready to take bigger roles on the 15s team.
Juniors Jake Goena and William Fuller, along with fifth-year senior Miles Honens, all have championship experience on the wing and fullback positions. Competition for spots, however, is still ongoing, and the team’s upcoming games will allow the coaching staff to further work with various lineups.
Although the Bears played four strong games overall last weekend, head coach Jack Clark maintains that there is still work to be done and that Saturday’s games are a chance to work on cleaning up various areas of improvement for the team.
“Well, we played last weekend at UCLA and we were successful on the scoreboard, but we could have played a little better rugby,” Clark said. “We need to have more accuracy and better ball control, but also fewer penalties.”
Clark also says his team turned the ball over too much last weekend and this time around, he would like to see a cleaner game played. The season is still young and each match will be used as a tool for learning and improving, but Clark’s high expectations for his players are aimed at getting the team in peak form swiftly.
Saturday’s games mark the start of a stretch for the Bears in which they will play seven out of their next nine matches at home at Witter Rugby Field. With many of the players’ families in attendance for Parents Weekend, the team is looking forward to running out in front of the home crowd.
“It’s great to be at home; traveling is tough and the fact that we are away from campus is difficult,” Clark said. “Student life on the road is always hard, so it’s good that we will be at home in front of our fans.”
Nikhil Bhumralkar covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].