Scraping for preseason experience, the UCSB women’s rugby team split its preseason 3-3 with early wins against Claremont College, Davis and Cal Poly before losing all three games at San Diego’s Scrum by the Sea tournament.

Senior eight-man and team captain Blair Groefsema said the tournament losses to Arizona State, Chico State and Humboldt are not indicative of the team’s ability.

“The tournament was just for the rookies to get more chances to get used to the game,” Groefsema said. “It was more about getting everyone playing.”

To fit all the games into a two-day schedule, each match was cut in half. Additionally, UCSB Forwards Coach Andreas Pyper was unable to make the trip down to La Jolla and a number of key players were sidelined due to injury.

“We made a lot of improvements over the weekend, kept a positive attitude,” Groefsema said. “We had a blast playing.”

Santa Barbara will have chances to redeem itself when it starts Southern California Rugby Football Union play at the end of January 2006. The Gauchos will face off against Arizona State, Claremont College, UCLA, Occidental College, San Diego and Arizona two times each. However, UCSB has already proven that it can hang with the tough teams.

“ASU is one of our biggest rivals and we beat them last year,” Groefsema said. “We got a good look at them at the tournament and they are a very good team, but we know what we have to do to beat them now.”

Groefsema said that, because the Gauchos only lost two key players from last year’s squad, UCSB should be the team to beat this year.

“This year, we have a strong continuity because a lot of us have played together for three years now,” she said. “We have a very strong team and we’re showing a lot of improvement with each game. We should be very good this year.”

In addition to Groefsema, Santa Barbara is led by seniors scrumhalf Shelby Silva, flanker Phoebe Boone and lock Kara Mathews, although UCSB is not discrediting the talent of its newcomers.

“The rookies are doing a great job,” Groefsema said. “We have a lot of promising rookies, so most likely a lot of rookies will be coming into starting positions right away.”

Santa Barbara’s strongest asset, Groefsema said, is its positive attitude. Although the Gauchos have some work to do on technicalities, the team is shooting for a strong season finish.

“The stuff that we need to work on, we can work on,” Groefsema said. “We can definitely win our league and go to nationals. We definitely think that’s in reach.”

Until then, UCSB has a few obstacles in its way. The first is San Diego. Last year, the Gauchos tied for second in the league behind a strong Triton team.

“Last year, we only lost to UCSD and they will, again, probably be our biggest rivals,” Groefsema said.

Before Santa Barbara reaches that hurdle, it will host its alumni match this weekend.