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California Conf. Kicks Off With UCSB at Saint Mary's

College Men

California Conf. Kicks Off With UCSB at Saint Mary's

Saint Mary's won big last week, but there's more work to do. Michael Geib photo.

The California Conference gets an early start this weekend as UC Santa Barbara visits the Saint Mary's Gaels Saturday.

Saint Mary's is coming off a 91-0 defeat of Arizona State that comes with a couple of "yeah, but ..." caveats. For one, Arizona State was hit with the flu in the days leading up to the game, the Sun Devils were fortunate to get a healthy 15 players on the field. As a result, the Gaels might have expected to win by a lot, and did, but Head Coach Tim O'Brien wasn't too impressed.

"We were pretty imprecise," said O'Brien. "We had some poor moments in terms of ball-handling and decision-making. Overall, we just need to play more."

That may be true, but Saint Mary's still plays more rugby early in the season that just about anyone else. And because of that the coaches have been able to see a group of smart, motivated young players make a move for starting spots. (It's worth noting that Aaron Matthews, and Scholz Award-Winner Dylan Audsley didn't start v ASU.)

At present, there's a battle brewing in the backline as several players have put up their hands. Jack Carso has been impressive at fullback, Cory Kroeger could show some potential at center, something Alejandro Duran has already done, while Mike Wallace has played well, also. O'Brien said he has as many as 12 players who could start in the backline. If there's a sure thing with the selections, though, it might be scrumhalf Holden Yungert, who has marshaled the attack superbly so far.

Up front, there have been changes. Henry Hall was moved from lock to his original position of tighthead prop. Payton Telea has emerged as a useful (and new) loosehead. Kevin O"Connor remains the captain and go-to man in the back row, along with Vili Helu. The Gaels have had to look for some help at hooker, and found Hayden Warneke, a player of skill and intelligence, and Nick Hryekewicz, who has also impressed, in place of injured Ethan Waller. The second row might be a work in progress, but watch out for Austen Middleton and Anthony Rodriguez to be those kinds of Saint Mary's players who punch above their weight.

For UCSB, this game has to be a tough task so early in the season. The Gauchos will look to the game as a measuring stick of what is possible if they work at it. Head Coach Tim Lewis is trying to get the program there, and will rely on some young talent to do the job. The front row of Garrett Bumann, Ki Wan Sung, and Adam Vasquez is experienced, but it's the new guys, like backs Cameron Gerlach, David Jenkins, Anthony Singh, Jack Murphy, and Cameron Bibby, who might turn heads. UCSB has some talent in the engine room, too with Alex Sniezek and Jonny Amandoli big strong second rows. Deniz Kapkin and Davis Peralta could make a mark at flanker.

But first it's about learning to work together, and doing that while one of the best teams in the nation is trying to disrupt you.

California Conference 2017 Schedule
1/14/2017 UCSB at Saint Mary's
1/28/2017 Santa Clara at Saint Mary's
1/28/2017 Sacramento State at UC Santa Barbara
2/4/2017 Sacramento State at Cal Poly
2/11/2017 San Diego State at Sacramento State
2/11/2017 UC Santa Barbara at Santa Clara
2/18/2017 Cal Poly at Santa Clara
2/25/2017 Saint Mary's at Cal Poly
2/25/2017 Sacramento State at Santa Clara
2/25/2017 San Diego State at UC Santa Barbara
3/4/2017 San Diego State at Saint Mary's
3/11/2017 Cal Poly at UC Santa Barbara
3/11/2017 San Diego State at Santa Clara
4/1/2017 Saint Mary's at Sacramento State
4/8/2017 Cal Poly at San Diego State