Jan. 22, 1998
Cal Varsity Rugby: Season Preview
Berkeley, Calif.-- The Cal Varsity Rugby squad starts the season defending a dynasty. The team won its seventh consecutive national title last year--its fourteenth crown since the national competition began in 1980. Outsiders might consider Cal a lock for another title in 1998, but Head Coach Jack Clark explains that the Bears have their own goals...Goals
Our goals are the same as they are every year which is to become the absolutely best rugby team we can. If that is good enough to win us a National Championship, then great, but the fact of the matter is that true satisfaction comes from us reaching our potential. That may sound a little soft, but we are very committed to this process of development. We'll spend the first third of the season absolutely focused on our technical performance. Winning and losing will be a lesser priority. We will be committed to doing the small technical things well. We will hold ourselves accountable to this and nothing else. In the second part of the season, we'll really begin to hone our patterns of play and in the final phase its about fitness and execution. We are going to vest ourselves in that process and we'll let others speculate about National Championships.Strengths and Weaknesses
In general, the team is well positioned for a good season in '98. Our biggest concern is the loss of 8 starting players. Seniors typically provide a great deal of leadership and the 1997 group was like that, strong and determined leaders of the team. But what is atypical is the huge void in our rugby skill created by the loss of those players. Three of those graduates were true internationals. Kevin Dalzell and Scott Yungling have both made appearances at the international level of competition. Katsu Takei came very close to representing the United States and I imagine he will now go home and represent Japan at some time in the future. The returning players, although big and strong, haven't proved they have the same skill levels. I would characterize the 1998 team as a powerful team. I'm hopeful that it will be a determined team, but we've a long way to go to prove that we can skillfully, tactically, take a team apart the way last year's side could. As for team character, I'm convinced that championship teams have a core group of leaders--10 or more guys. Most of those players fall into a lieutenant's role with a couple really being true captains of the team. I don't believe that we have anyone on our team who has, thus far, stepped up to claim those positions. It will be one of the real meaningful dynamics of the team in the first month as to who steps up. By way of players, Kirk Khasigian at the hooker position, Dave Stroble at flyhalf, and Matt Gorham in the centers will undoubtedly have outstanding years. We are also just about two-deep at all forward positions. There's a great deal of depth there and the players will push each other for starting positions. We are somewhat inexperienced in the backs with the exception of Gorham and Stroble, but there are some potentially exciting players there. Marc Vera of the Cal football team has recently turned out; it's a little early to forecast his entire future, but he certainly has the ability to be a world-class players. He brings great size, speed and flypaper hands to the game. If he can work on the techniques that this game requires, he could truly be exceptional. Wing Ryan Fried and fullback Nic Sliffe are back for their second seasons of rugby, and they could also be outstanding. Dave Paterson, from the Cal track and field team, although new to the game, has outstanding speed. We have one of our better recruiting years with no fewer than ten prospects all of whom we believe will have strong careers. The only question is how many of those guys can we count on to be a significant part of our squad in '98.Coaches
We are pleased to have Jerry Figone, Ramon Samaniego, and Brian Walgenbach back with us again this year. They all bring a lot of experience to the table. We are especially pleased to welcome back John Riddering who was a 1985 All-American and has recently been coaching the UC Davis team. He has helped that program to unprecedented success and it is great to bring John back into the fold. He'll be working primarily with the forwards.Schedule
Typically our toughest competition locally is from Stanford and Davis. I believe that all three of us have been equally hurt by graduation. I'm not convinced that any of us has a significant advantage over the other at this point. I wish we were playing Davis later in the year rather than next week. Cal's probably most vulnerable early in the season--because of academic considerations we start training late. We're planning our first ever trip to Portland where there is a growing collegiate tournament. I anticipate we will see tough competition there from Oregon State and BYU. Our tournament this year includes the University of Kansas--a strong side--along with Simon Fraser University from Canada and the University of Arizona, so that tournament also promises good competition. We beat the University of British Columbia on the road last year, so I can assure the boys that when we see the Thunderbirds in February, they will be a determined bunch. The same can be said of the University of Victoria. If we are successful, I believe our Sweet Sixteen path will take us through a Houston regional at Rice University, so we will go from the rain of the El Nino winter to the humidity and hard fields of Texas.