All teams have their ups and downs. The UCSB men’s rugby club is definitely going to shoot for its share of ups this season.
Following a successful 2000-2001 season, the Gauchos are looking to dominate Southern California Rugby this year. More importantly, Santa Barbara is aiming to make the program enjoyable for the players by following the concept that it’s not strictly about competition. The camaraderie of the sport is also a huge part of the club’s success.
UCSB has 20 returnees from last year’s 6-2 team, but only two returnees were starters. With up-and-coming players like Brian Townsend, Ty Vernon and Matt Russo, Assistant Coach Peter Crick doesn’t see the absence of the 13 starters as an issue. There are also 30 new recruits that Crick says are very promising.
“I feel really good about this season,” Vernon said. “We lost a lot of people to graduation last year, but our new players are playing up to our level and are definitely good enough to play on the first team.”
Last year’s team produced six Southern California All-Stars, or Griffins. UCSB also boasted All-American Wally Fredricks, who has graduated. Griffins from last season include UCSB alumni Nate Weis, Gabe Calebrotta, Ray Camahort, Jolen Hill, Kyle Gurwell and Dave McIntyre. The All-American team traveled to Ireland, defeating teams such as Trinity College. Fredricks went on to be named “Man of the Match” against Trinity.
Teams within UCSB’s division include Cal Poly, UCLA, Long Beach State, San Diego State, University of Arizona and Arizona State.
SDSU captured last season’s title after a slim win over the Gauchos. Santa Barbara was leading with two minutes left in the match, before giving away a penalty that caused the upset. The Gauchos finished in third place.
“We had them – I couldn’t believe [we lost],” Crick said.
Head Coach Kevin Battle, along with Assistant Coaches Crick, Tom Constantine and Adam Kircaldie, took over the team in 2000.
“My main focus was to instate some discipline, organization, and focus,” Battle said. “The team had tremendous amounts of talent and athleticism.”
Battle is looking to build on last season’s success and continue to improve his team. The coaches’ biggest goal is to give the players an experience they will remember for a lifetime.
“The beauty of the game of rugby is the camaraderie and how highly competitive it is on the field,” Battle said. “You have everybody from a ditch digger and laborer to a doctor and lawyer, and on the rugby field they are all the same. The friendships that you develop last for a lifetime. It’s more about teaching about life for us than teaching about being a national champion.”
The UCSB rugby club competes in the Southern California Rugby-University Division and is currently in preseason competition, with regular league games beginning in January. UCSB hosted a preseason tournament last weekend against Santa Monica, the Santa Barbara Grunions and Westmont College. The Gauchos took third place after Senior Chris Lerry broke his leg, with Santa Monica coming in first, the Grunions in second and Westmont finishing fourth.
Also on the agenda for the Gauchos this season is a trip to New Zealand over Spring Break. Battle said New Zealand is the top country in Rugby, and Santa Barbara will be facing teams that include Waikato University and Auckland University, the number one team in the world.