UCLA Trip - Summary
I have been taking teams to the Denis Storer Classic for quite some time. Each year, from a coaching perspective, the goals are unique. Some years we strive to pit ourselves against the finest competition we can find in the pre-season, other years we use as a learning experience. This year, we needed to do both. We accomplished our goals as we always do, with hard work on the field, and by conducting ourselves like gentlemen outside the arena of play.
Saturday’s first match was against three time Utah Champions, Snow Canyon. Their size was imposing, and their skills made most teams at the tournament envious. In a hard fought contest, against a team 4 weeks into their league season, we came up on the short end the stick. However, there were many positives to be taken away. Colin Celotto, our prop from Humboldt proved that he is the real deal, even if he needed an inhaler to fight off an infection. He has been a great addition to the team. I hope he finally realizes this is HIS club too! Mark McCloskey was his usual self on defense, but he added an additional dimension in this game in attack. Nick Calzaretta, making his debut, picked up where he left off from last year but with significant increases in size and confidence. Ross Baylor’s service to the backline was exceptional as was his foot, and Gerrardo Dominiko continued to show that anyone who gets near him the first time will have to seriously think twice about doing it again.
The second game against Santa Monica RFC was a bit of a mix up. SMRFC, who was last year’s runner-up at Nationals, had agreed to play a reserve-grade match against our team. Twenty minutes prior to kickoff, they changed their mind and decided to pitch-up their top side, as they wanted to get a warm-up prior to their game with Danville. This decision did not sit well with me as I explained to their coach that we had boys on a 15 hour bus ride who needed playing time but he wasn’t going to help. The attitude of their coaches was reflected in their players and their fans. They played dirty, cheap-shot rugby that seemed to delight their fans/parents. Of course, I took offense to some of their supporters’ positions, politely reminded them of the ethos of this game and calmly suggested that they go elsewhere. Even though the final score was 3-17, we showed that we can play our game no matter what the circumstances. Billy “I’ve seen the light” Lewis had a blinder, and as a sophomore, I am really excited for his rugby future. Pat “Red Gatorade” Burrell was having his second of what was to be 5 outstanding matches, and Sam Crolla was quietly making a resounding argument for a 1st XV jersey. Although it should come to no surprise, Leonardo Le Merle was proving that even as a freshman, he can play ball. He will captain and lead this team one day and will have significant supporting evidence in the Le Merle family argument as to who was the best rugby player.
Even though the game was tight, I kept true to my philosophy that the reason for traveling to UCLA was to develop players. So, as the game wore on, players were rotated into the match. Freshman Rocco Allenstein showed that he can move people when he wants to and Wiley “E-Coyote” Geiger (another freshman) proved that he too is on his way to being a baller. But the head-turner in this game was the combination of Felipe Namatasere (ANOTHER freshman) and crusty veteran Zach Tanverakul. Felipe was a bulldozer with ball in hand, running us out of trouble, while often carrying multiple defenders on his back. And Zach was simply everywhere. It is HUGE for this team; to have a guy that can do it all!
The day ended with positive lessons learned, lots of happy faces, a new found dislike for another Southern California team and some tired kids. Saturday’s team dinner was an unusually calm affair, with the players stuffing themselves as only teenage boys can do. Free time followed, and most of the team found their way to the Santa Monica Pier and beach (after a change into their robes) while the coaches and some parents enjoyed the offerings of the 3rd Street Promenade.
Sunday’s 6:45am wake-up call was painful to all. Our first match was against ICEF from Los Angeles at 9am. We battled to a tie with some solid play from Nick Desarnaughts, who is really starting to figure it out and a very, very brave Giancarlo Esposito, who consistently found himself tasked with stopping the large, hard-charging, smack-talking opponents. Jackson Holscher showed his pure athleticism in a couple of spots with some blistering runs and, whereas he has a long way to go, his bags are packed and he has left the station; much to my delight. Dylan Sweet is a solid new addition to this team. He is learning fast and figures to play a big role in our development throughout this season, along with newcomer Teddy Russell, who seems to have a true passion for seeing how hard he can hit a ruck or an opponent carrying the ball. It’s strange, but after a giant collision, he gets up with this wry smile on his face. Hmmmmmm-flanker maybe???
The second match of the day was against Riordan HS from San Francisco. They pitched up one of the biggest forward packs I have seen in High School rugby. Buddy Carlin and Matt Richman in the back row were OUTSTANDING!!! There is simply no other way to put it, they epitomized what top-level players do on the pitch. It was a sight to behold.
Riley Sell confidently controlled the game from the #10 jersey and Tom Brusati, featuring for the first time at half-back directed the play of the forward pack with incredible knowledge and skill. Additionally, Drew “Ears” Hamilton seems to have found himself a new home in the #13 spot with his hard runs and all-encompassing defense. RHS punched a couple in late due to sheer exhaustion and the game ended a tie on the scoreboard, but a WIN for our development.
The team stayed to watch the final of the Storer Classic, which pitted CAL vs. UCLA and saw the Golden Bears emerge victorious. SEVEN of my former players pitched up for the Blue and Gold with great success throughout the weekend. A long bus ride home returned us to Larkspur late Sunday night; bruised, exhausted and sore, but smiling ear to ear, much better rugby players and bonded as a team.
So much thanks, again, goes out to Pippa van der Wal for taking care of the trip and even providing for the unexpected. Bill Lewis for being “Mr. Everything” in SoCal, as well as all of the other families that traveled to support the team.
Lastly, I have to thank a great coaching staff; Kevin Coyle, Mateo Medrano and Sam Sirell for their knowledge, support, help and for being my sounding board and confidants.
Elsie Allen Friday night.