In recent years, Cal Poly has been a force to be reckoned with in almost all club sports. This season was no different for the Mustangs, as three different club teams — men’s lacrosse, rugby and men’s ultimate Frisbee — earned a spot in the national championships for its respective sports.
The lacrosse team, mostly made up of freshman and sophomores, lost a “heartbreaker” to the always-dominant Chapman University in the national championship after a season that had some issues getting off the ground.
“We conducted a coaching search all summer, but couldn’t find anyone,” junior team captain Sean Pihl said. “We knew we had a really good freshman class coming in, and our goal was to keep them on the team.”
According to Pihl, some people quit lacrosse during rush week to join fraternities. This, combined with a coaching search that lasted until early January, could have spelled disaster for the team. Fortunately, the Mustangs were able to stick together through the hard times and were subsequently rewarded when the team announced its new coach, Bobby Dabrieo, who went on to win Coach of the Year for 2016.
“I love the guy,” sophomore left attacker Andrew Laron said. “He’s not just a coach, he’s a friend. He really takes the time to talk to his players and see what’s going on in their life. He understands physical mistakes, but, if you’re ever making a mental mistake, he will stop the entire play and make you run it again until you get it right.”
According to Pihl, the team first realized its potential during an early-season road trip to Arizona.
“We were the seventh-ranked team and we played Arizona State University, which was the third-ranked team at the time,” Pihl said. “The following day we played Grand Canyon University, who was the defending national champion. I listened to a podcast the week leading up to the tournament and the guy predicted us to get shelled out by both teams.”
Cal Poly went on to beat both ASU and Grand Canyon, leaving the team members feeling that if they played at this same level all season, they could beat anyone.
According to Laron, the closeness of the team is really what separates it from everyone else: “There’s not one person on the team who’s selfish. Looking to win game, rather than to score individually, is really what helped us when we played the top teams this season.”
The team dominated in the box score as well as on the field. Some facts: sophomore midfielder Austin Lord won 203 of 301 faceoffs, junior goalkeeper Sean Pihl allowed just 5.1 goals per game and freshman attacker AJ Guralas finished fifth in the league with 2.8 goals per game.
Despite all of the success this season, the Mustangs are still not satisfied with their finish to the season. After losing to Chapman on its home field, Cal Poly is more motivated than ever to win the championship next season.
“Guys know it’s in reach now,” Pihl said. “If losing to Chapman on their home turf for the national championship doesn’t fuel you and get you excited, you shouldn’t be playing next year.”
While the lacrosse players leaned on team communication, the Cal Poly Rugby 7’s team had a slightly different approach to get to its national championship tournament: when the going got tough, the team got tougher.
“Our biggest strength is the work ethic of the team,” senior rugby club president Zach Markow said. “We all come together really well and put in a lot of work in throughout the season to improve our strength and speed to compete against teams with a lot more funding and access to facilities that we don’t. But we compete against those kinds of teams because of our willingness to work, our fight and our tenacity.”
What the team has in brawn, it seems to lack in communication, according to Markow.
“On the field, when it’s 40 minutes into the game and you’re breathing heavy, that’s when our communication starts to die down,” Markow said.
After winning two games Saturday, the Mustangs advanced past pool play to the knockout round where they went 1-2. This eliminated Cal Poly from the tournament after a stellar run.
This year’s rugby team has embraced the underdog role, because it plays against varsity level club teams but is not technically a varsity level club sport. This results in a lack of funding and facilities, but rather than letting it bring them down, the team members use this to motivate them.
“Embracing that role has helped us become so successful because we know we have to work twice as hard, and we know we have to fight and put in double the effort because we are underdogs,” Markow said. “It helps us build and grow as players and has allowed us to succeed in the ways we have.”
After the success of the club this season, the Mustangs will try to carry their strong play into next year.
“Next season we really want to make a push further into nationals; we want to bring a championship back to Cal Poly,” Markow said. “As soon as summer starts, we need to hit the weights and the track and just get bigger, faster and stronger.”
Cal Poly men’s ultimate frisbee has “grown exponentially in the last few years, in both the number of players and the talent level,” senior men’s ultimate frisbee president Joel Anton said.
Like the lacrosse team, the men’s ultimate frisbee team’s strength is team unity. According to Anton, it is a “rather boisterous” team whose energy on the sideline directly translates to its effort on the field. It also shares similarities with the rugby team, as the team’s biggest strength is its athleticism.
“We know the guy at the bottom of our roster is always going to be more athletic than the bottom guy on the other team,” Anton said.
This season, men’s ultimate was able to secure the 20th seed overall, the 17th seed in the national championship tournament and the South Western Conference Championship. The team’s victory in the conference championship came in dramatic fashion, with a victory over Stanford. Cal Poly was the only team to advance to the national championship tournament from its conference.
“We came out and steamrolled them on the first point,” Anton said. “Seeing the team take the energy from the locker room to the field was the best moment of my eight-year ultimate career.”
When the season began, the men’s ultimate frisbee team’s goal was to be competitive all season, and to make it to one of the play-in games for the national championship. The team was able to accomplish this and a little more, as it was able to make it to and play competitively in the tournament. Cal Poly was eliminated from the tournament, but the team is looking to build on to this season’s success and continue to grow next year.