Cal Begins Campaign at West Coast 7s

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October 9, 2015

Cal Begins Campaign at West Coast 7s

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Photo: Cal Athletics – Milton Wong

Press Release: Cal Athletic
“BERKELEY – When California kicks off its 2015-16 competition calendar Saturday, Oct. 10, at the West Coast 7s, the Golden Bears will open their autumn account on the heels of their third straight national 7s title at June’s Collegiate Rugby Championship, where Cal was crowned champion in the style of the sport that will feature at next summer’s Olympic Games.

Saturday at the Cal Poly Sports Complex in San Luis Obispo, the Bears will be the top seed in their pool at the 12-team West Coast 7s. Cal will look to advance to the semifinal round, where it could meet another top pool seed in UCLA, Arizona State or the host Mustangs. Following pool play, with Cal’s kickoffs at 11 a.m. and 12:20 p.m., the top-four teams will square off in semifinals at 2:20 and 2:40 p.m., followed by the consolation final at 3:20 and championship final at 3:40 p.m.

This weekend begins a three-event fall slate of seven-a-side rugby for the Blue and Gold, with the West Coast 7s followed by the Cal-hosted Autumn 7s on Oct. 24 before the semester culminates with the PAC Rugby 7s Championship November 7-8 at Witter Rugby Field.

Coming off a 21-1 year in 7s during 2014-15, with tournament wins at the Battle in the Bay and PAC 7s Championship preceding the 7s national championship, head coach Jack Clark is likely to select a blend of known names and developing players for Saturday’s opener in SLO, followed by a combination of varsity players and frosh-soph selections for the Autumn 7s, and the top-15 players entering November for the PAC Rugby 7s Championship with day-two TV coverage on Pac-12 Networks.

“I think we are a little behind where we were this time last year due to inexperience,” said coach Clark. “We’re hopeful that with time, we can find our footing. We have a few established players, but they can’t play every minute of every match.”

Despite significant turnover, tremendous talent returns to the oldest intercollegiate sport at the University of California as rugby enters the autumn. Veteran student-athletes back for 2015-16 include three starters from the 2015 Collegiate Rugby Championship final, five more with CRC experience at last year’s tournament, three of Cal’s all-time top 10 for tries scored and four in the top 10 for appearances in seven-a-side play.

Gone, however, are five players who competed for Cal in the 2015 CRC final: All-America co-captains Jake Anderson and Alex Gletzer, along with top-10 try scorer and former 7s All-American Paul Bosco, who graduated; Harry Adolphus, who has joined Cal football for the fall; and Nicklas Boyer, who is overseas for most of the semester playing with the Bedford Blues club in England. Previous CRC participant Carl Hendrickson also graduated last spring.

Back for 2015-16, by comparison, is a trio of proven players who rank among the best in the nation, starting with Andrew Battaglia, Cal’s top 7s scorer last year, a 2014-15 All-American for 7s and honorable mention AA for 15s who is tied for No. 1 all-time in appearances (65) and No. 2 in Cal 7s history with 40 tries scored. He is joined by Anthony Salaber, a 2014-15 All-American in both 15s and 7s whose 21 tries scored are No. 6 in Cal 7s history and whose 38 appearances are No. 8 all-time; and Russell Webb, a 2014-15 honorable mention All-American for 15s, Cal’s MVP of the 2014 PAC 7s Championship, No. 3 in Cal 7s all-time for appearances (48), tied for ninth in tries (19) and the top conversion kicker in Cal 7s history (111) who returns to the lineup after an injury suffered last spring.

After that top echelon is a tier of talented but less-proven veteran returners, all with some measure of CRC experience: Patrick Barrientes, No. 10 all-time in Cal 7s for appearances (35) with 13 tries scored; Lucas Dunne, who has four tries and 14 appearances thus far in his 7s career at Cal; Miles Honens, who carries 10 tries and 16 appearances into 2015-16; James Kondrat, a 2014-15 All-American with seven tries in 12 appearances in 7s; Jesse Milne, whose 20 tries (No. 7 all-time in Cal 7s) have come in 31 appearances; and Eakalafi Okusi, No. 9 all-time with 36 appearances in Cal 7s, with six tries and one conversion kick.

Other returning veterans on the Bears who will be looking to break into the higher reaches of the depth chart include Matthew Chipman (nine appearances, three tries), Jamie Howells (two appearances, one conversion), Nick Salaber (one appearance), Connor Sweet (14 appearances, one try) and Matt Ternan (three appearances). Junior Drew Gaffney will make a bid for selection to his first 7s squad, as will fellow third-year Billy Maggs after returning from injury.

Only two sophomores return with 7s experience: Hugo d’Auriol, who is aiming to build upon his three tries and four conversions in nine appearances, which he accrued before an injury sidelined his freshman campaign; and Zachary Tavenner, with one appearance. Other sophomores in the quest for tournament minutes include Matthew Coyle, Aidan Flynn, William Fuller, Michael Goodwin and Jake Goena, any of whom will be making his Cal 7s debut when his name is called.

Among the first-year players who have shown potential in training for Blue and Gold playing time this fall are freshmen Ben Casey and Jack Weigold, and junior transfer Thomas Robles. But from top to bottom, every members of this year’s team is striving to make his mark at every meeting and at every training session to prove he has mettle to be selected for competition, whether it be during fall 7s, spring 15s or the June 2016 Collegiate Rugby Championship, which ends the year with an opportunity for Cal to win a fourth consecutive national championship in the Olympic style of the game.

“Tom [Billups] and I are reasonably confident that, with time, we have the makings of a national 7s contender,” Clark said. “But this semester is geared toward our PAC 7s Conference championship. It won’t be an easy task to defend our title – there are some excellent teams in our conference.”

Last year at the West Coast 7s, Cal outscored its opposition 119-12 before meeting UCLA in the final, where it matched the Bruins’ two tries but missed a conversion kick that proved to be the difference in a 14-12 loss, Cal’s only defeat in 7s last year.

The Blue and Gold carry an all-time record of 86-14 (.860) in 7s into 2015-16. With a fall schedule that allows the team to build toward its goal of a fourth straight conference 7s crown, the Bears will look to improve at every stop along the way as they play autumn 7s into spring 15s, competing in the Varsity Cup National Championships prior to the CRC before next summer’s Olympic Games mark the return of rugby as medal sport for the first time since 1924.”

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