There haven’t been many surprises for Cal rugby in the 15s this season, as the team coasted to a 15-1 record and was undefeated in conference play after appearing in the national championship game last season. One surprise, however, was Cal’s upset victory against then-top-ranked Saint Mary’s on March 30, vaulting the Bears to the No. 1 ranking in the country as the team heads into the playoffs.
Cal has been placed as the first seed in the West bracket and is slated to host eighth-seeded UC Davis (8-4, 4-2 California) at Witter Rugby Field on April 13 for what will be their second meeting of the season.
The Bears dominated the Aggies 136-0 in their last meeting, which was Jan. 26 in Berkeley. In that match, sophomore wing Marcus Shankland led the effort with four tries, aided by senior flyhalf/fullback Elliot Webb’s nine conversions.
“We are continuing on the same path,” said head coach Jack Clark when asked about postseason adjustments. “With more specificity around installing wrinkles which highlight individual strengths.”
UC Davis is currently ranked 19th nationally and sneaked into the West bracket as the final seed. The Aggies are coming off a 60-12 loss to No. 14 Grand Canyon on March 16, which snapped a four-match winning streak in which the team defeated then-ranked opponents San Diego State and Cal Poly, in addition to Santa Clara and UC Santa Barbara. UC Davis finished third in the California conference, behind Saint Mary’s and Grand Canyon.
The Bears will aim for a return to the national championship after another strong season. The team’s only loss came outside of D1-A rugby in Cal’s visit to Canada in a match against the powerhouse University of British Columbia. In the West bracket, Cal has faced and defeated the aforementioned second-seeded Saint Mary’s, fourth-seeded Arizona and sixth-seeded UCLA, along with UC Davis. The East bracket features top-seeded Life University, which defeated Cal, 60-5, in the 2018 national championship game.
Regardless of the outcome, Witter Rugby Field will host the two quarterfinal matches in the West bracket, so the Bears have the opportunity to have home-field advantage in the next round. Saint Mary’s will host the semifinal match in the West bracket, so the Gaels will have home-field advantage if they advance that far, with a chance to stop the Bears from reaching another title match. The championship match will be at Santa Clara University on May 4.
“Hosting is sometimes more work,” Clark reflected. “It might be a small advantage, but if we advance, it won’t be bad just getting off the bus and playing.”
Kunal Dutta cover’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].