Shortly after the New Year, while many of us were stuck in a vicious cycle of vowing to uphold New Year’s resolutions, then breaking them with a Snickerdoodle McFlurry and late-night binges of “The Bachelor,” the Bears came roaring out of a brief holiday hibernation for training camp. Strawberry Canyon was once again full of rugby players hitting, jumping, lifting and preparing for battle in the coming spring 15s season.
“Camp has been productive, and all of the players have put in the work to hopefully get us to a good start,” said head coach Jack Clark.
Indeed, the Bears have plenty of reasons to hope for a “good start” considering an outstanding 7s season this past fall, which culminated in a Pac Rugby 7s championship victory in November. The team overcame injuries of key talents, including seniors Christian Dyer and Sam Cusano, as well as sophomore Sam Walsh, who was injured during the Pac 7s championship weekend. But unfortunately for Cal, Walsh, Dyer and Cusano’s injuries are severe enough to make chances of the three playing together this spring exceedingly slim.
“Sam Walsh and Christian Dyer are still out with long-term injuries,” Clark said. “Sam (Walsh) is gone for the season and Christian has a slim chance for the postseason in April. We will also not have Sam Cusano with us for awhile, as he’s still recovering from injury.”
As was the case in the fall, it seems likely that injuries will be a hurdle for the Bears in the spring. As was also the case in the fall, it seems likely that Cal will learn to adapt and overcome these injuries, however.
In the November Pac 7s tournament, injuries tested the Bears’ flexibility and ability to creatively adapt to changing lineups. But with a decision to hunker down and start bigger guys — including the 5’7”, 188-pound senior Keanu Andrade, who had an explosive performance against Arizona — the Bears decisively won their final games against Arizona and UCLA, affirming that Cal has the depth to battle and win without some star players.
With the lessons of the 7s season in mind, this weekend’s Dennis Storer Classic tournament in Los Angeles — named after Dennis Storer, the first coach of USA Rugby in 1976 and UCLA coach from 1966-1982, with a 362-46-2 record — will provide insight into how the Bears’ 15s lineup will take shape without the aforementioned injured players.
The Bruins will host the tournament, which includes collegiate and high school teams from across California, and it seems they will be the Bears’ most formidable opponent. On Saturday morning, the Bears will face the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, and in the afternoon, the UC San Diego Tritons.
On Sunday morning, the Bears will battle against the Bruins in what will surely be a competitive match. The Bruins beat Cal twice in the 7s season, and although Cal beat the Bruins in the Pac 7s tournament, it remains clear that UCLA is the team to beat this weekend.
The tournament will be a great opportunity for the Bears to get back into 15s mode in a relatively relaxed preseason environment, while learning more about what needs to be done in the training grounds of Strawberry Canyon to prepare for some big games in the spring.
Jem Ruf covers men’s rugby. Contact him at [email protected].