Cal Rugby takes on Cal Maritime in Bay Area showdown

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Ethan Epstein/File

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The Bears enter Wednesday’s game against Cal Maritime in Vallejo, CA with a 7-0 record overall and a 2-0 record in PAC Rugby Conference play, yet they are still aiming to adjust and improve as they head into this upcoming matchup.

Heading into this game, the Bears will look to build off last Saturday’s victories, in which the team performed better than it had early on in the season, in regard to both its offense and defense. This improved play was catalyzed by a cohesive team effort and individual strong play from sophomore fullback/center Troy Lockyear and freshman scrumhalf Keanu Andrade.

The Bears have many proven players on their roster, such as their triumvirate of fifth-year seniors: flyhalf Russell Webb, and centers Anthony Salaber and Patrick Barrientes. Additionally seniors such as flanker Drew Gaffney and prop Kevin Sullivan have been key to maintaining the Bears performance from last year’s championship level play. Cal, though, has already turned to many of its young players this season, and to recreate last season’s success, those athletes will have to be key contributors for the team.

In Jan. 28’s matchup versus the Utes, the Bears started five underclassmen: Lockyear, Andrade, freshmen wing Sam Cusano, sophomore flanker Nic Mirashem and sophomore lock Robert Paylor. Other young players found their way into the game against the Utes too, such as freshmen flanker Thomas Spradling, who subbed in mid-first period. The Bear’s home debut of the last season saw only two underclassmen in the starting 15.

“It’s good to see, there are really bright futures in the program,” Cal head coach Jack Clark said. “Quite frankly we need them, we need them this year”.

In addition, freshmen Christian Dyer has seen playing time early on in the season and could prove to be a valuable reserve behind Salaber and Barrientes at the center position. Dyer has made his presence felt with his active play and by finding his way into the try-zone multiple times.

In a tough break for the Bears, senior and starting flanker Thomas Robles went down with a broken leg in last Saturday’s win against the Utes. This is a tough loss for the Bears, especially because his play in last year’s championship game was particularly excellent, and his availability for this year’s playoffs is unknown at this point.

The Bears now have to slightly change their starting lineup and rely on some reserves to fill in. It will take a collective team effort to offset the loss of Robles, yet the Bears’ roster depth and versatility may provide the remedy to help get through this early season adversity.

“We will have to experiment around a little bit. There’s a couple of young guys who have been playing pretty well,” Clark said. “Drew Gaffney is an option there, as is Connor Sweet, both of them, played quite a bit at number eight in the past. So we are probably going to experiment for a while.”

Gaffney and Sweet, as well as Spradling, may be among the players in the mix to step up for the Bears. The roster has a strong blend of proven upperclassmen and emerging talents, which can help the coaching staff and team collectively adjust in the wake of the Robles’ injury.

The Cal Maritime game will be the Bears’ first weekday match of the season and kicks off a two-game week, which will be another test for the Bears to combine last year’s old guard with their young guns.

Ryan Groves covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].