It’s here, it’s finally here. The D1A Championship will take place this Saturday, as Santa Clara University’s Stevens Stadium plays host to Life and Cal. It has been a long and arduous journey for both the teams throughout the season. For Life, they’ve had to compete in arguably the toughest conference in the nation. While for Cal, they played an intense slate of games both in and out of conference play. Their Hard work has paid off, and on Saturday it will all come down to eighty minutes of rugby to settle who will be the D1A Champion for 2017/18.
Life, is the only undefeated team in all of D1A. To get to this game, and in the fashion that they have, has not been an easy task; however, it is one that they have become accustomed to. On Saturday, they will be playing in their 6th consecutive National Championship match. Despite, their continued success, head coach Colton Cariaga isn’t taking anything for granted, “It’s a new year and a new challenge. It’s a feeling of excitement to compete. Even looking back on this past Fall, this team has matured a long way. The best thing we can do is stick to what we’ve been doing well, just doing it better, and adapting when we need to.”
For Cal, this will be their first time back in the D1A National Championship Match since 2011. They had been busy competing in other tournaments in the interim, and had been enjoying a string of successful runs. Since they’ve reentered the D1A landscape it has been a successful ride for them. They were able to knock off Grand Canyon handedly in the first round of the playoffs, then coming up against a stiff challenge from Navy in the quarters, and again last weekend in the semifinals they were pushed the whole way by a quality Lindenwood outfit. Through these tough matchups in the playoffs the men from Berkeley have built up a strong sense of resiliency, but of course anyone who has been watching them throughout the year knew they were a team of strong character, something that they will need to tap into on Saturday.
One of the things Cariaga mentioned was the team has changed so much from the Fall, and it’s some of those lessons that Life has learned throughout the year that could hold them in good stead come Saturday. “Rugby is an interesting game. There’s plenty that is in your control and yet there is much that is out of your control. No rugby game is ever entirely the same. That’s why we constantly have to focus on ourselves…That comes from experience and often times getting it wrong first. So, it’s been about getting a little better every week in our preparation in terms of what we can control but then also adapting and moving forward when we’re faced with something out of our control,” Cariaga elaborated. Cal has one of the most, if not the most, storied histories out of any collegiate program, and a large reason for that has been their ability to produce players with sharp rugby acumen. It will be something that Life has prepared for.
Cal, not to be outdone has put in an incredible shift over the course of the season and have asserted their strengths time and time again. Throughout the year Cal challenged themselves against not only some of the best teams in college rugby, playing several teams ranked in the top ten, but they also went up against some of the best club teams in America and Canada. This has allowed them to perfect their craft and get themselves prepared for big occasions such as these ones.
One of the things other things that both teams have in common, other than their mental wits, is their ability to play the game at a blinding speed and for Life they know that a secret to winning their second title in three years will be slowing the ball down. “I think teams have been looking for ways to counteract fast teams all season. It’s equal parts line speed and connection, tackle skills, return to play, and rotation.”
Saturday’s championship match is shaping up to be another close affair, with plenty of scoring. With both teams having had experience in big games such as these before, it won’t be won by experience, necessarily, rather it will be won by execution. With both teams playing a very similar style of play to one another they will both be aware of what needs to be done in order to shut it down. The key to winning the Championship, will be the team’s ability to adapt and respond on both ends of the ball. Whoever can be the most comfortable in different, and at times, uncomfortable situations should come out on top.