Saint Mary’s, UC Santa Barbara victorious in California

D1A Rugby: Saint Mary’s, UC Santa Barbara victorious in California
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Saint Mary’s went over the century mark in its dominant win over Santa Clara, while UC Santa Barbara welcomed Sacramento State back to the California Conference by downing the Hornets, 41-15.


Saint Mary’s 106 – 15 Santa Clara
To little surprise, Canterbury’s third-ranked Gaels are putting up massive numbers in just the first month of their season. Their latest victim, Santa Clara, went to Moraga, Calif. and left Saint Mary’s College with an 89-point loss.

The Broncos, who have made a habit of traded blows with the California champions in the opening stages of matches, took its lone lead when Adam Leonard’s try was converted. The 7-5 advantage would be short-lived, however.

Chris McDonald scored three first half tries to help propel the Gaels to a 40-10 lead at the break. Still, the home team was not trilled with the level of play that produced a 30-point lead after 40 minutes.

“We weren’t entirely satisfied with our first half performance,” admitted captain Kevin O’Connor. “We hold ourselves to a high standard and we knew we could do better, specifically by reducing the mental mistakes at the breakdown that were evident in the first half.”

Saint Mary’s was even sharper in the second period, beginning with Alec Barton’s second try of the game. Fellow loose forwards Vili Helu and Marcus Viscardi were among the nine different Gaels to dot down in the second half. Members of an inexperienced but emerging tight five also got on the board with tries from prop Payton Telea and lock Holt Johnstone.

“They haven’t missed a beat and continue to gain the trust of the older guys,” O’Connor said of the forwards who are cutting their teeth with Saint Mary’s A-side. “However, it’s easy when things are going great to get caught up in the commotion and think things are perfect. That being said, we have some big tests ahead of us which will give us an idea of who we really are as a team.”

Nick Russo’s interception returned for a try was one of Santa Clara’s lone highlights from the second half.

Saint Mary’s, which typically comes out of the New Year firing on all cylinders, had an especially impressive month of January. In four matches, the Gaels averaged 88 points per contest on their way to four victories. O’Connor, a fifth-year senior, believes the team isn’t planning to wait until the D1A Playoffs to hit its peak form.

“Looking back at years past, some of our best training session have been at the latter part of the year – April and May – where we have a more focused group at practice,” recalled the All-American flanker. “This year we’re looking to emphasize that same focus but in December and January. We’re just trying to put our best foot forward. I think we’ve done a fairly decent job at doing so as we’ve hit some of our goals, but there’s always room for improvement.”

All-American Dylan Audsley, who scored a second half try of his own, was an impressive 13 of 16 from the kicking tee.

The Gaels take a break from the California Conference this weekend, but should receive a stern test from West Conference champions Air Force on Feb, 4 at the United State Air Force Academy. The last time the two sides met was in the 2016 D1A Rugby Quarterfinals when the Saint Mary’s took down the Zoomies, 77-17.

Santa Clara, meanwhile, returns to conference play Feb. 11 for its first home game against UC Santa Barbara.

 

UC Santa Barbara 41 – 15 Sacramento State
The Gauchos proved to Sacramento State that its return to the California Conference might be more challenging than originally anticipated. UC Santa Barbara, which has finished in the basement of the conference’s standings table the past few years, welcomed the Hornets back to the California competition by hammering the them, 41-15.

After opening conference play with humbling defeat against Saint Mary’s, the Gauchos picked up a nice nonconference win last weekend against Long Beach State ahead of its conference home opener.

“We’ve been working hard since October teaching new players to the game and refreshing returning players on the basic skills, team concepts and fitness,” explained UCSB Head Coach Tim Lewis. “I think the wins over Long Beach State and Sacramento State are a combination of the players’ skill development and the team’s cohesiveness.”

The 26-point win saw UC Santa Barbara’s big heavies up front do their share of the work, as well as the team’s speed on the edges. The Gaucho’s all-sophomore front row of Garrett Bumann, Kiwan Sung and Evan Zigman continue to impress, while junior wingers Omar Naguib and Osvaldo Ordonez made big plays and were diligent in finding additional work away from the wing.

“We will continue to build our in-season form from one practice and one game at a time,” said Lewis. “If the boys commit to the trainings and each other the results will come.”

UC Santa Barbara will attempt to win its third consecutive game when it faces Santa Clara Feb. 11. Sacramento State will host its first home game of the California season Feb. 4 when Cal Poly comes to town.