What’s next for Cal?

Bears will not defend their national championship but will still seek 7s title

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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series explaining what postseason path lies ahead for the Cal rugby team.

Following Cal’s 20-18 loss to Saint Mary’s on Sunday, the Bears now have to wait a month and a half for the Collegiate Rugby Championship, a national 7s tournament, to take out their frustration.

Normally, the team would’ve qualified for a 15-player postseason tournament and likely would be competing for a shot at the national championship in a couple of weeks — but the squad became ineligible after withdrawing from the College Premier Division in December.

The Bears then planned to compete for the old Division I championship but were ruled ineligible after the announcement of its intentions was met with a great deal of backlash from competition.

“I guess our plan was to enter a frosh/soph team into the postseason. I thought that they’d benefit from a run,” said coach Jack Clark. “I guess our fate was sealed when the local teams didn’t want us to play in the local competition.”

The ruling leaves Cal stranded, prematurely extinguishing its 15-player season. The Bears finish at 15-2, but it becomes hard to qualify the team’s success in 2012 without a postseason to talk about. Cal had been an intriguing team — a young and inexperienced squad that would look disjointed and vulnerable at times but dominating at others. Watching this squad try to defend its 2011 national championship and live up to the expectations associated with its name would answer a plethora of questions about its legitimacy.

However, the College Rugby Championship should still give this squad a chance to prove its worth. Hosted in Philadelphia in June and aired nationally on NBC, the tournament will give the Bears a chance to answer their critics on a national stage.

Cal has always struggled with the tournament — and in 7s play in general — and a deep run by this team would be a tremendous, and unprecedented, accomplishment.

In years past, the Bears have never had a chance to adequately prepare for the competition, staying focused on the 15s championships instead. After dominating BYU in the 15s national championship last spring, the Bears only made it to the quarterfinals of the 7s tournament, losing to Utah 21-5.

Now the squad has a month and a half to prepare itself, and it should be poised to make some noise in seeking a different kind of national championship.

“We’ll put a little more focus in that this year — which we haven’t been able to do in years past,” Clark said. “We’ve kind of just thrown our effort together, after the season if you will. Now, it becomes our postseason, and we’re going to look forward to that.”

The team’s focus on the tournament is part of a greater scheme in putting more emphasis on 7s play. Moving forward, the Bears plan on implementing a permanent model of essentially having two seasons every year — a 7-player campaign in the fall followed by the traditional 15-man season in the spring. Across the nation, the importance of 7s play is on the rise, as more and more teams are considering it as comparable in relevance to the 15s season.

“We really want to win this tournament this year,” said junior Seamus Kelly.