At a time of uncertainty and change to the status quo, it remains a safe bet that Cal’s most successful and oldest intercollegiate sports program will dominate its opposition. In its long-awaited return to action after sweeping through the Pac-12 Rugby 7’s, Cal men’s rugby did not skip a beat.
For the team, the first step of regaining its pre-COVID-19 status of dominance had already been taken in a successful fall season. In retaining over 70% of the 2019 60-man roster, head coach Jack Clark galvanized the Bears to an undefeated championship season to add onto his unmatched coaching resume.
In the spring season, the Bears will seek to win the 15s national championship, a title that Clark has previously won 24 times. After a fall season in which the blue and gold did not allow a second-half point in the Pac-12 Rugby 7s, it’s safe to say that the standard remains the same.
The first battle in the new year was the Dennis Storer Classic, a contest Cal had won for the last 15 seasons. Over the weekend, it shut out UC Santa Cruz 29-0 and handily beat Cal Poly 33-3 on the first day. At the very least, these performances show that the Bears have no plans of slowing down. Both of these victories showed a solid team effort, with nine players combining for 10 total scores. Notably, nine underclassmen made their spring 15s debut on the first day, a bright sign for the future of the rugby team..
In defeating UCSC and Cal Poly, the Bears were set to face the host of the classic in UCLA for a rematch of the Pac-12 7s finals last November. This was initially a close contest, as Cal allowed 8 points unanswered and only led by 14-8 at the half. The blue and gold responded convincingly, outscoring the Bruins 24-0 after the break to win the Dennis Storer Classic.
Four seniors, Kevin Saunders, Nick Bloom, Nathan Zylstra and Marcus Shankland scored a total of six tries. Junior Max Schumacher, who had a strong showing in the Pac-12 7s, went 4-6 in his conversion attempts.
For the Bears, facing the adversity of playing while down was a foreign concept, and perhaps the only skill this team hasn’t yet acquired. That being said, their response spoke volumes, and is a great sign for the future. Upon the postponement of their home contest against Santa Clara due to rampant COVID-19 cases, the Bears will host UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 29th for their next contest.
AJ Alany covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].