The Sweet Sixteen was bittersweet for the #16 UCSB men’s rugby club team.
The Gauchos fought mightily before bowing down 67-29 to California, the national champions for the 12th consecutive year, during last Saturday’s game.
“We went in knowing we were going to have to play our best game ever to beat them,” senior Nate Pinkston said. “We did not have any special strategies, just a lot of mental preparation.”
Though the score seems to show that the Bears trounced UCSB (12-3 overall), the Gauchos scored more points on Cal than any other team has in the past two years. Santa Barbara also became the first to score a try – or a goal – to give the Bears a run for their money in the first half.
“The score doesn’t tell the real story,” UCSB Head Coach Kevin Battle said. “The game went extremely well. We were winning for the first 25 minutes.”
Unfortunately for Santa Barbara, Berkeley’s experience in the national tournament paid off in the second half. Cal went into halftime with a comfortable 34-16 lead. The Bears then came out firing with four tries in the second half while the Gauchos were only able to score one.
“It was an amazing performance by our team,” sophomore Andrew King said. “A lot of people were just expecting us to roll over and die. [Cal’s] coach even came over and told our coach that we put up a good game.”
Whatever the turnout from this last game of the season, the team is proud to have enjoyed an amazing season, especially after ending the 2001-02 season 1-7. The Gauchos were also able to beat rival Cal Poly in their final regular season match to garner a tie for their league – the Southern California Rugby Football Union – championship.
“We are a completely different team this year,” Pinkston said. “We have improved so much.”
With the team only losing five out of 15 starters, next year’s squad looks strong. The team understands the huge impact that advancing to the Sweet Sixteen will have on its program in the future.
“We know we need to get bigger and stronger because we are a smaller team,” King said. “We look to grow and get better in every aspect of the game.”
Members of the team who were not able to travel to Berkeley for last weekend’s tournament will be able to play in the Santa Barbara Tournament this Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27 at Storke Field.
“[The Tournament] is our team’s major fundraiser; it’s also a big tradition,” Battle said. “It’s been going on for 40 years.”