The Cal Poly Rugby Football club team clinched the Southern California League Championship for the second year in a row with a 77-17 win over the University of San Diego, and is just two wins away from going to nationals.
Undefeated last year, the team had an 8-1 record this season, which included a league-record 135-0 win over Long Beach State, a victory team president junior Thomas Ramirez partially attributed to the fact it was the alumni weekend game.
Home games have the advantage of larger crowds and less stress on the players, Ramirez said, and it shows in their record. In three of their four in-season home games, they kept opponents to single-digit points.
Their one loss, 35-24, was to San Diego State.
“I think the first half was pretty soft,” Ramirez said. “Us, them (SDSU) and UCSB are usually the top teams in the league. If you don’t come out playing the entire game as hard as you can, things get messed up.”
Even though it is a club sport, the rugby squad has a comparable amount of players and time commitment to intercollegiate teams.
Cal Poly has two full squads with a third side for the more inexperienced, first-year players. With 15 players on the field at a time and an allowance of seven subs per game, usually about 22 players contribute to each game, Ramirez said.
The team practices two or three times a week in addition to at least two 6 a.m. training sessions for fitness, not including their weekend games that take them all over California.
Most of the players have little to no past experience coming into college because it’s not as common for high schools to offer it, said Ramirez, who has been playing for three years.
As a club sport, they get little money from the school; most of their support comes from players’ dues, donations and fundraisers, Ramirez said. The money is used for equipment, uniforms and to pay the coaches.
Their head coach, Nick Massman, has been with the program for four years – two as head coach and two as conditioning coach. A 1993 Cal Poly alum, Massman played rugby as a student and got involved in the program as a coach once he moved back to San Luis Obispo in 2004.
“(The 8-1 record) puts us at the top of the table,” he said. “We had a young team this year, expectations were high. The freshmen really stepped it up this year.”
The playoffs at Cal this weekend are single elimination. If the team wins all its games, it’ll go to nationals at Stanford in two weeks.
Last year, the team’s undefeated season was cut off by a loss to BYU in the playoffs, something it is determined to avoid this year. If both teams win their first games, they will fight for the ticket to nationals Saturday.
“(Last year) we played BYU in the second round and they eliminated us,” Ramirez said. “We’re out for revenge this year.”
Cal Poly will play Minnesota at noon Friday at Cal’s Witter Rugby Field.