It’s hard to explain exactly what experience can mean in sports. Playing time is so crucial in a way that goes beyond years played. This weekend, Cal rugby roster will showcase both in the PAC 7s Conference Championships in Tucson, Arizona. 15 player roster of Cal includes both senior hooker/wing Jake Goena, who will make his 2017 season debut, and sophomore scrumhalf Keanu Andrade, who leads the team this year with 10 appearances as well as 24 appearances in career 7s matches.
Because of Cal head coach Jack Clark’s decision to play a freshman-sophomore team last time out in Treasure Island, upperclassmen in the team had seen playing time only in the first tournament of the season, in San Luis Obispo. In the particularly speedy game that Olympic style rugby 7s is, upperclassmen will try to draw from experience of previous years to perform at the game speed.
“We’re probably not as game, match, competition ready as we would like to be with the upperclassmen,” Clark said.
On the other hand, good performances of freshman and sophomore in Treasure Island paid off as six players made the cut for this weekend. Freshman scrumhalf/center Marcus Shankland, who leads the team with 10 tries at the moment, and will be looking to keep his form for a happy ending to first half of his first season as a Bear.
However, Cal’s varsity team will be in action this weekend, which is set to have another long run. The team consists of a mixture of experienced players like senior center/flyhalf Matthew Coyle, who was the tournament MVP in San Luis Obispo, as well as high flying newcomers Shankland and fullback/center Seth Purdey.
The Bears will compete in Pool A against Arizona State and Utah, and two teams will move on. Cal has an all-time dominant record against Arizona State with a 12-1 mark, with only loss coming at the pool play of 2012 PAC 7’s. The Bears moved on to win the conference title that year, which started a 5-year title streak that Cal hopes to continue this year at Arizona. Both teams also matched up at last year’s final, where Bears outclassed Sun Devils with a 47-14 victory. Last time out at the Treasure Island, Cal started the weekend again against Arizona State and young Bears secured a fairly easy win with the scoreboard showing 26-7 at the end of 14 minutes. Since only one win would might be enough in the pool stage, it’s questionable whether Sun Devils will play with full capacity against a more experienced Bears squad.
“Maybe (Arizona State) gives us both barrels or maybe they decide they’re better off to focus on Utah,” Clark said. “7s is a funny game though, what happened last time is pretty much unimportant to next contest.”
The second matchup on Saturday for Cal will be Utah. Cal holds the all-time series 4-2, winning the last four match-ups. Cal will try to continue its winning streak after a two-year interval, where the experience of older players will come into play.
Cal will look forward to bring home the title for the sixth time in a row as the short Fall 7s competition comes to an end this weekend. The Bears will continue with 15 aside rugby, where the season might end for Bears as late as June. This long schedule is one of the reasons coach Clark has been distributing minutes between upper and lowerclassmen.
“There is a greater good, which is regulating the number of minutes among our best players,” Clark said. “It’s just a long season.”
Can Sariöz covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].