Author: Rachel Stober
Occidental Men’s Rugby (7-1) hopes to win their last two games and finish the season undefeated except for one loss to California Lutheran University (Cal Lu). Unfortunately for the Tigers, that one loss prevents them from advancing to the playoffs despite being ranked No. 1 in the country for Division III rugby after making the national championship last year.
Coming off a previous undefeated season, the Blackshirts started off explosively, winning their first two home games against Pacifica College and Concordia University, 62-15 and 67-5, respectively. Then they traveled to University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) to beat them on UNLV’s own turf. Both Occidental and Cal Lu were undefeated entering their Feb. 25 game. Although the Blackshirts took an early lead and maintained it until the half, Cal Lu scored quickly and successively after the break, keeping Occidental scoreless for the remainder of the game, for a final score of 30-18.
“We just didn’t play very well,” senior captain Leon Siegel said. “After the first half we lost a lot of our momentum. Our defense both in the forwards and the backs kind of collapsed a little bit.”
Cal Lu went on to lose to California Maritime Academy, meaning no team from Southern California, a strong region for rugby, will be represented at the national level. Although it was a difficult loss, head coach Dallen ‘Paki’ Stanford hopes to use this setback as motivation rather than focusing on the past.
“It was a tough game,” Stanford said. “But I know that the players that were in that game will be really excited next year for the challenge, and we look to reverse that next year.”
According to Stanford, the large number of young players on the team who have built up their core skill and still have two or three years left will add to the team’s potential for next year.
President Matthew Nixon also noted the improvement of new additions to the team. “The rookie players have really improved in their understanding of the game, they’re much better at knowing where to be and [with] their general knowledge of the game,” Nixon said.
Since the pivotal loss, the Tigers have kept a clean record. They defeated Whittier College and Point Loma Nazarene University, and two other teams forfeited because they did not have enough players. Seigel and senior captain Tucker Easton note that the Tigers would never forfeit because of strong teamwork and camaraderie on and off the field.
“We eat together, we hang out together, a lot of guys live together, [and] I think that’s what separates us from a lot of the teams in our league,” Siegel said.
Ranked second to Cal Lu, Occidental’s last two remaining games will be against the other two teams in the top four, University of California, Richmond on April 7 and at Occidental against North Central College on April 13. Stanford expects close competition but hopes to pull out the win, especially for the seniors that are leaving. Siegel agreed that their main goal is to win the remaining games.
“I think for a lot of the seniors if we don’t win these last two, it’ll leave a bitter taste in their mouths,” Siegel said. “Even after our loss to Cal Lu, there’s no choice but to win the last two, I’d say.”
With four league victories, Women’s Rugby (4-2) is celebrating its first winning season since 2003, most recently earning a forfeit victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) to beat the Stags for the second time.
Although they suffered two tough losses at the start of the season against California State University, Northridge and University of Arizona, their record-breaking number of players, two new coaches and promising rookies proved fruitful with a non-league win against California State University, Long Beach. Their first league victory came in their next game against California Lutheran University, where the Tigers prevailed 24-7. This was the first win for many of the team’s veteran players, who experienced a winless season last year.
“For some of the girls who have been on this team for a while and committed their time and their life and their energy that have not had that win, seeing just the raw emotions at the end of the game was so exciting,” head coach Maggie Cooper said. “They were just tears of joy and for a good a reason … to see that come to fruition on the scoreboard is very satisfying.”
The Lady Blackshirts didn’t stop there as they went on to beat CMS and Cal Lu, both by a score of 28-0. They faced CMS again April 1, but the opponent had to forfeit due to a lack of players. Coming off a 2011 season without a single victory, president and captain Candace Lubar (senior) attributes their substantial turn-around to the team’s frustration with their previous failures.
“I think at the core is that everyone who was on the team last year who is still on the team this year was kind of just done losing,” Lubar said. “It was pretty clear that we had potential as a team, and I think everyone was just completely fed up with things not going how we wanted them to and … I think that’s sort of what brought out the numbers and the coaches and kept people coming to practices … and working out on their own and things like that, and then we started winning.”
The sheer number of players seems to have had a positive impact on the team. Cooper notes that half the players that regularly attend practice had never played rugby before this year, and almost 90 percent are in their first or second year playing at Occidental. The plethora of young talent on the team includes some of the top scorers Stella Keck (first-year) and sophomores Dominique Ross, Liz Wells and Sophie Putka. Putka has recently stepped into the position of vice president for Lily Berrin (junior) who is studying abroad this semester. The driving “snow-plow” force of the team, however, seems to be Jasmine Tovar (sophomore).
“The all-time, crowd-pleasing-est playmaker has to to be Jasmine, scoring in style game after game with her incredible offense [and] always to deafening cheers and excessive celebration on the sidelines,” assistant coach Jennifer Murphy said.
“Usually the people that try and stop her end up hanging off of her,” Lubar said.
In addition to talent in the roster, the Tigers’ two new coaches contributed to the team’s success. Lubar said with the addition of Anthony Yeo and Jason Lewis, who “just sort of came out of the woodwork” of the greater L.A. rugby community, the team is now able to work on a whole new range of drills and plays. Although they still stress the basics, Cooper says they are working on adding more of the bigger picture to the players’ knowledge bases.
“We’re starting to be able to look into a more th
oughtful game where the girls are starting to understand a little bit more of where to anticipate where things are happening and make the best use of their energies,” Cooper said.
With two games left in the season against University of Southern California and California State University, Fullerton, Cooper anticipates tough competition but hopes their hard work will put them in a solid position to stand their ground. “Teams that even sometimes might be bigger or have different experience, if we can play well together, we should be able to beat them,” Cooper said.
Win or lose, this year’s Lady Blackshirts have already made their mark in Occidental’s rugby history, bringing new life to the pitch and wins to the books.
“I only hope we can build this season into an ever-improving dynasty of Occidental College Women’s Rugby,” Murphy said.
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