Alumni hope to represent Cal rugby at the Olympics

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The Cal rugby team hopefully turned some heads this season and propelled rugby into the minds of fans who otherwise don’t see much of the sport. They made history by becoming the first team to win the national championship in 15s and 7s in the same year. This summer, several former Bears will also be looking to turn some heads and earn recognition as rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1924. The Olympics will feature the faster paced seven-a-side version of the game, and considering that Cal has won each edition of the 7s national championships, it is no surprise that the team USA roster will feature a few Cal alumni.

Cal’s roots with the national team run deep. Cal head coach Jack Clark coached the team from 1993 to 1999, leading the Eagles to the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Included on that team was Kevin Dalzell, who had recently concluded an incredible rugby career as a Bear, and Tom Billups. Clark and Billups clearly developed a relationship through that team, and when Billups retired after the World Cup, a spot was waiting for him on Clark’s coaching staff. He is now an associate head coach with the Bears and helmed the national team himself from 2001 to 2006.

A former Bear probably had the most unlikely path to becoming an Eagle. Alec Gletzer only picked up the game in 2010 as a way to practice for football, a sport in which he was on the path to becoming a D1 linebacker. Rugby, however, was a natural fit. Within a year, Gletzer made the U.S. under-20 national team and transferred from Santa Barbara City College to UC Berkeley shortly after.

Gletzer only has two appearances with the national team and is unlikely to appear in the Olympics. But just being on the national team roster is an incredible feat considering he had never played the game just six years ago.

Blaine Scully, who captained the Bears’ 2011 national championship team, is a current co-captain with the national squad. Scully was one of the youngest members of the U.S. 2011 Rugby World Cup roster but still managed to start three of the Eagles’ four games. He has grown into a veteran leader with 33 caps between 15s and 7s and is the only Cal alumnus on the national team who has found a true role playing rugby professionally in Europe, recently joining the Cardiff Blues. Scully played a role with the team’s third-place finish in 7s at the 2011 Pan American Games, so it’s certainly possible we’ll see him representing his country this summer in Rio.

Eric Fry is the oldest alumnus currently with the team. Although he is an accomplished national team player, all of his 40 caps have come in playing 15s, so we shouldn’t be expecting to see him this summer.

Rounding out the list are teammates from the 2012 championship winning team, Jake Anderson and Danny Barrett. Anderson is a newer addition to the national squad, having only made three appearances during 15s play with the team. Since graduating, Anderson has also kept himself busy playing for the semi-pro Olympic Club team. Anderson starred in the 2015 College Rugby Championships, the biggest 7s tournament in the nation, so seeing him suit up for Rio would not be a surprise.

Barrett is the much more accomplished player in terms of Eagles appearances, holding 13 caps for 15s and 23 in 7s. He has been a star for the team in 7s, and it would be a surprise not to see him in Rio in some capacity. He is the only Bear currently on the 7s roster and is certainly the most likely to see playing time this summer.

Ten Bears were on the last squad of Americans to suit up for the Olympics in 1924, and although we won’t see quite that amount almost 100 years later, the Bears and Olympic rugby still seem to go together hand in hand.

Andrew Wild covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].