On the west coast, the calendar’s turn to autumn marks more than just colored leaves, Halloween and pumpkin spice. For rugby fans, this new season marks the start of the 7s circuit and the beginning of a new year in collegiate rugby. And for many of the more than a dozen California rugby programs that descended onto Cal Poly this Saturday, fall had finally arrived.
On a Saturday in San Luis Obispo, in the finals of the West Coast Collegiate 7s at Cal Poly, in a match that can only bode well for the Bears continuing their successes this season, Cal was able to come away with a perfect record and a championship victory over apparent rival Saint Mary’s College.
This outcome may prove doubly beneficial for the blue and gold, as it gave the program a chance to move on from its April loss to the Gaels of SMC that ended both its perfect season and hopes at a bid for the 15s West Region Championship.
Outside of its showdown against St. Mary’s, the Bears had a lot more to be happy about this weekend, as this tournament proved the first opportunity in months to compete against a diverse field of talent. The field at Cal Poly this weekend was full of familiars for the Bears. Pac 12 usuals like UCLA, UCSC and UCSB were in attendance, as well as Stanford and USC. Representation from within the Golden State didn’t stop there: with several Cal State squads in addition to host team Cal Poly.
Cal, as is usual during the 7s circuit, fielded two squads: Team Cal and Team Bears. The only program to follow suit was St. Mary’s. The Gaels brought two squads: Team SMC and Team Gaels to round the list out at twelve teams in the main tournament field.
Team Cal started its Saturday in SLO with a morning pair of victories against Sac State (47-0) and Team Gaels (24-0), cementing itself as the top seed of Pool A. Team Bears followed suit with impressive wins over UCSC (40-12) and the Bruins of UCLA (22-7). Both teams entered the tournament bracket poised for success and an opportunity to play each other in the finals.
The veteran Team Cal was able to coast by Cal Poly (24-7), but on the other side of the bracket, in what was still an impressive showing for the more green Team Bears, the blue and gold’s second team dropped a close contest to St. Mary’s (14-24).
In the final, Team Cal and the Gaels went back and forth, the match was tied at 14 until the combined efforts of Alex Aguero, Max Schumacher, Max Clark and Caleb Tomasin helped the Bears on a 17-point run to end the match with a final of 31-14.
With the Bears hoisting hardware on Saturday afternoon, perhaps the greater victory was the development of the team as a whole. The start of every season brings its share of rust and room for uncertainty.
And while the blue and gold have been practicing, getting minutes in competition, especially against the diverse group of teams faced Saturday, will prove to be even more beneficial for the growth of less experienced players and team chemistry as a whole.
For all twenty-eight players that played this at SLO on Saturday and head coach Jack Clark, the start of the 140th season of Cal Rugby may not have gone any better.
Look for the Bears to continue to press towards growth and continued success during the remainder of the 7s series leading up to the Pac 7s championship in November.
The next opportunity for Cal rugby to grow is two weeks away at the West Coast Collegiate 7s at Treasure Island from October 22-23. There, the first-ranked Bears will attempt to repeat as tournament champions.