For a young roster, fluctuations between games are expectable. Cal rugby’s loss in the semifinal against Central Washington in the West Coast 7s can be linked to that, but this is the second year in a row that Cal sent a freshman-sophomore team to Treasure Island for the West Coast 7s, and yet again, the young Bears concluded the weekend with a 5-1 record. The difference this year was that their loss came in the semifinal instead of the quarterfinal, which meant a third-place result for Cal rugby, compared to last year’s plate bracket championship.
The Bears started the weekend strong by sweeping their pool A competition Saturday. They started with a 26-7 win against Arizona State, where they were boosted by sophomore center Christian Dyer, who scored half of Cal’s points with two tries and three conversions. Dyer continued his good form against UC Davis with one try and three conversions in the Bears’ 21-7 victory. Cal concluded Saturday’s play against USD, winning 24-14.
Cal head coach Jack Clark rested some of his key players from the first two matches, including Dyer. Other resting players included Cal’s all scorers in the first two matches; sophomore scrumhalf and captain Keanu Andrade, freshman scrumhalf/center Marcus Shankland and freshman fullback/center Seth Purdey. However, the Bears had no problem scoring the ball, reaching their tournament high 19 first half points in this game. One thing that it seemed Cal could do better in this pool stage was early defense, as they allowed a try and a conversion in the first half of each of the three games.
“I don’t think we necessarily had any bad performances; there is just a learning curve,” Clark said.
The Bears seemed to improve their defense as they started Sunday with a shutout quarter-final win against SD State, 29-0. However, Cal’s dominant performance is outplayed in the semi-final by Central Washington, who had probably the most dominant performance in the tournament’s pool phase. They kept their opponents scoreless in all three matches while offense seemed to be an ease for the Wildcats; 31-0, 50-0, 41-0. However, Central Washington had a tougher quarter-final outing than Cal, where Wildcats allowed UCLA to close the gap in the second half with 21 unanswered points as opposed to their own 24 unanswered points in the first half, 24-21. Central Washington seemed to left that unusual second half behind very quickly as they bounced back on defense against Cal, keeping them to the Bears’ tournament low 12 points.
“We had to protect the ball and I thought we didn’t had enough patience,” Clark said. “We forced the issue couple times and turned over the ball.”
Bears’ could not stop Wildcats’ senior wing Ian Wright who lead the game with 11 point on one try and three conversions. Bears had a bad game overall, but also the young roster experienced how hard it is to comeback in a 14 minute 7’s match. The young Bears had never trailed until the semi-final, going into the halftime break with the lead in three of the four games. Purdey’s try and Dyer’ conversion at the end of the first half was a sign of hope going into the break, but a chance for a comeback ended as Wildcats scored a try and a conversion in the second half. Sophomore flanker Thomas Spradling decided the score with a try and Bears lost the game 26-12.
“It’s always a big responsibility when you put the shirt on, either as a freshman, a sophomore or a senior, because there are a lot of guys that went before us in our legacy,” Spradling said.
“(Central Washington) played a very clean game,” said Clark. “I thought we made some errors, and then we had to change the game and it became hard.”
Cal ended the weekend with a 22-7 win against Utah Valley, getting the third place in the West Coast 7’s. Sophomore leadership was important in this tournament as upperclassmen stayed back in Berkeley for the weekend. Freshman and sophomore players had a chance to show themselves that they are a part of the Cal Rugby tradition.
Even though the scoresheet did not show the impact Spradling had on the game, hard fought performance of the sophomore really set the tone for the young Cal roster. Spradling’s five points on one try doesn’t simply illustrate his impact on the pitch.
“Spradling really demonstrated what Cal Rugby is about,” Clark said.
The weekend was a chance for Cal to see the development of their young players and for young players to learn from their mistakes. Next stop for Bears is the University of Arizona where they will compete for their sixth straight PAC 7’s conference championship, with their varsity squad.
Can Sariöz covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].