Jan. 11, 2012
BERKELEY - Entering the 2012 season, a particularly young California rugby team will need to evolve quickly to replace the loss of 15 graduated players from the squad that went 27-0 en route to the 2011 national collegiate championship, the Golden Bears' second straight undefeated, untied season dating back to the start of the 2010 campaign, which gives Cal a current 53-match winning streak in 15s.
The Bears carry a nearly identical schedule into the 2012 season compared to its 2011 slate in the College Premier Division, from which it opted to exit after its inaugural season. Eight Pac-12 member universities are on the docket for the Rugby Bears, whose challenges will also include trips back to Salt Lake City to play Utah in its backyard; to Vancouver, Canada, to face the University of British Columbia in the second leg of the "World Cup" series; and over the Berkeley Hills to visit Saint Mary's College in Moraga.
More than half of the 2012 Bears are comprised of underclassmen, including 17 freshmen, and many will be called upon to help fill the void created by the departure of six All-Americans and more than two thirds of the lineup from Cal's triumph in the final last May over Brigham Young.
"Although we will field a team of largely inexperienced collegians, we have some excellent cornerstone players and overall there is a fair bit of talent on our team," said head coach Jack Clark.
The front row features experience, maturing talent and promising new players. Returning senior All-America Jeremy Deterding, whose effort won a key scrum against the head to seal the 2011 final, anchors the unit, with fellow returners Zack Klaas, Lyall Davenport and Tanner Mohr in the prop mix, and freshmen Chris Fry and Scott Walsh also showing their potential.
At hooker, Jake Wrobel and Grant Hyjer are two primary options, with sophomore Travis Moscone pushing for playing time.
Senior leader Connor Ring is back for his final season at scrumhalf and he will be assisted by sophomore Paul Bosco, who played some important minutes last season. Freshman Nicklas Boyer has also shown some skill, adding further depth to one of the most talented groups on the team, which also includes senior Kyle Caravelli and junior Jose Peña.
Senior Alex Aronson has the pole position to take over the starting flyhalf responsibility, but junior Brandon Kraft has made strides, too, and freshman Andrew Battaglia already made a mark earlier this year at the California 7s.
Inside center includes juniors Brad Harrington and Jared Braun as primary choices, with freshman Eakalafi Okusi another intriguing option. All-America outside center Seamus Kelly is back, with seniors Ahmed Chehade, Mark Richter and Charlie Smith ready for their opportunity as well.
While the wings offer reasonable experience in senior Anthony Lomardo and junior Josh Tucker, sophomores Max Shaulis and Hunter Frisinger have both continued to improve, followed by a trio of promising freshmen in Matthew Chipman, Jesse Milne and Lucas Dunne.
Overall this is a young Cal team whose talent has been largely untested at the collegiate level. While the lack of experience carries question marks into the 2012 season, it also bodes well for a group that will remain together for 2013, when Witter Rugby Field returns as the Bears' home venue, and beyond.
"We've been here before as a program and come through in good shape. At some point, for example, an iconic player like Blaine Scully graduates and he sticks the baton in the hand of a young sophomore like Jake Anderson and away we all go," coach Clark said.
"There is so much promise in coaching a young team that it is really exciting," he added. "Down the line there might be a dozen All-Americans and a half-dozen internationals within our ranks. They aren't all that today, but they will get there."
The schedule gets started Jan. 14-15 with the UCLA Tournament, a weekend with Pac-12 member schools that the Bears have won all six years of its existence. Last year at the tournament also called the Dennis Storer Classic, named for the former UCLA and first U.S. National Team coach, Cal scored 38 tries in seven matches, yielding only three tries and beating the host Bruins in the final.
Loyola Marymount offers the Bears' frosh/sophs another opportunity for minutes on Jan. 15. The two teams have not met since 2007, when Cal's frosh/sophs beat LMU, 63-7.
After a Friday night, Jan. 20, tilt against Cal Maritime on Morton Field in Vallejo (link: tinyurl.com/mortonfield) and a Saturday, Jan. 21, trip to play Santa Clara the following weekend, the Bears visit Stanford on Jan. 28 to play the annual match for the Scrum Axe at Steuber Rugby Stadium. Cal has a 16-year winning streak against the Cardinal since Stanford's last victory over the Bears in 1996. Stanford is coached by Matt Sherman, a former Cal player.
A trip to the desert follows for the Rugby Bears, with matches at Arizona on Feb. 3 and at Arizona State on Feb. 5. Cal defeated the Wildcats, 22-3, in an abbreviated match at last year's UCLA Tournament. The meeting with ASU will be the first between the Bears and Sun Devils since 2005, when Cal shut out ASU on Witter Rugby Field.
On Saturday, Feb. 18, the Bears host the British Columbia Thunderbirds on San Francisco's Treasure Island to kick off the annual "World Cup" series. Cal has won 12 of the past 15 series against UBC, including a current streak of five straight in the two-match, home-and-away series.
A westbound traffic closure on the Bay Bridge scheduled for Feb. 18 will force drivers from the East Bay to take the Richmond or San Mateo bridges across the Bay and approach Treasure Island from San Francisco. The Route 108 bus from San Francisco's Caltrans station near the Embarcadero is another option, with fans able to access it from either side of the Bay by taking BART to the Embarcadero.
Two weeks after the first leg of the "Word Cup" series, Cal returns to the site of its 2011 national collegiate championship victory, Rio Tinto Stadium, for a meeting with the Utah Utes on March 3. The Bears and Utes faced each other three times in 2011, with Cal beating Utah at the UCLA Tournament (34-0) and the national semifinals (62-14).
The month continues with a trip back to Los Angeles to face Pac-12 peer UCLA on March 10, then a visit to UC Davis on March 17. While the Bears walloped the Aggies in their last meeting, the Bruins were nipping at Cal's heels in their first clash last year, with the Bears taking a 14-12 decision on day one of the Dennis Storer Classic before beating the Bruins, 53-5, in the tournament final the next day.
After the "World Cup" finale at UBC on March 25, the Bears play an April 7 match at Santa Rosa Junior College, where the deeper parts of Cal's roster get another excellent opportunity to play. In 2011, Cal's frosh/sophs defeated Santa Rosa JC, 31-21.
On Sunday, April 15, Saint Mary's College hosts Cal on Pat Vincent Field. The Gaels suffered a 60-34 loss at the hands of the Bears last year.
After the 15s season is complete, the Bears travel to Philadelphia for the national championship invitational, the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship, on June 2-3. That event will be televised by NBC.