At a time of uncertainty and change to the status quo, it remains a safe bet that Cal’s most successful and oldest peer sports program will dominate its opposition. In his long-awaited return to action after being swept through the Pac-12 Rugby 7s, Cal men’s rugby didn’t miss a beat.
For the team, the first step to regain pre-COVID-19 status of dominance was already taken in a successful fall season. Retaining over 70% of the 2019 60-man roster, head coach Jack Clark brought the Bears to an undefeated championship season to add to his unparalleled coaching resume.
In the spring season, the Bears will try to win the 15’s National Championship, a title Clark previously won 24 times. After a fall season in which Blue and Gold did not allow a second half in the Pac-12 Rugby 7s, we can safely say that the standard remains the same.
The first battle of the new year was the Dennis Storer Classic, a race that Cal had won over the past 15 seasons. Over the weekend, it closed out UC Santa Cruz 29-0, beating Cal Poly 33-3 on day one. In any case, these performances show that the Bears have no plans to slow down. Both wins showed a solid team performance, with nine players combined for 10 total scores. Notably, nine underclass players made their debut in the spring of the 15’s on the first day, a bright sign for the rugby team’s future.
By beating UCSC and Cal Poly, the Bears faced off against the host of the classic in UCLA for a rematch of the Pac-12 7s Finals last November. This was a close game initially, as Cal allowed 8 runs unanswered and led only 14-8 at halftime. The Blue and Gold responded convincingly, beating 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 performance in the Pac-12 7s, went 4-6 in his conversion attempts.
To the Bears, it was a strange concept to deal with the adversity of playing while down, and perhaps the only skill this team hasn’t yet acquired. That said, their response spoke volumes and is a great sign for the future. After the postponement of their home game against Santa Clara due to rampant COVID-19 cases, the Bears will host UC Santa Barbara on January 29 for their next game.
AJ Alany covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].