By James Nelson
Fans of Saint Mary’s rugby, and college rugby in general, are about to get a real treat. The Gaels, in conjunction with San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club, are hosting a brand new Rugby Sevens tournament named “The Battle in the Bay” that promises to be the best collection of rugby talent on the West Coast.
The tournament, which will be held Oct. 26-27 on Treasure Island, features 16 of the best teams on the West Coast, including seven that participated in last year’s Collegiate National Championships.
“I am excited in that for our first Sevens event of this type we have the top teams in the Western US being represented.” Saint Mary's Sevens coach Antonio Samaniego said. “As you can see, these are the top Sevens and 15's Rugby programs today in the USA.”
Saint Mary’s has hosted a Rugby Sevens tournament the past two years on campus but could not host it there again this season. In an effort to create the pre-eminent Rugby Sevens tournament on the West Coast, Saint Mary’s made the decision to move the tournament from Moraga out to Treasure Island. It's a move that should provide several advantages.
“In order to run a first class event with 16 teams it takes 2 fields.” said Samaniego, who also said the goal will be to increase the number of teams to 24 next season. “Therefore, we worked out a deal with SFGG to allow us the opportunity to use their facility and take advantage of having two fields next to each other."
Saint Mary's has participated in the Rugby Sevens Collegiate National Championship each of the last two years, finishing fifth in 2011 and fourth in 2012. With the recent inclusion of Sevens into the Olympics, colleges all around the country are devoting more resources to the sport and Saint Mary’s is no different. This year the Gaels have stepped up their preparation by starting earlier in the year and adding extra practices in an effort to try and win the elusive national title.
“Last year at the National Championships I could honestly say that the level of play by all teams was completely different than the year before,” Samaniego said. “You could truly see that the level of play has increased by a factor of 10 and all 24 teams in the tournament have earned their spot to be there. This year will be no different so we hope to be able to represent SMC again and with the goal to make it to the finals.”
The Gaels started the 2013 season on a high note with a third-place finish at the Cal Poly Tournament in San Luis Obispo. Their only loss was a hard fought 17-10 decision against perennial power Cal in the semifinals, after which they rebounded to defeat Cal Poly 17-12 in overtime to capture third place.
The team’s attack is led by seniors Garrett Brewer, Bubba Jones, and Augie Heath, with contributions also coming from juniors Cooper Maloney and Mason Colombo. Seniors Colby Stevens and Joey Reavey handle much of the ball handling for the team while seniors Mark Bowers, Kyle Peterson and Lloyd Evans are key pieces of the team’s defense and especially their set pieces.
These veteran players are the leaders of the team but the Gaels also have a strong supporting cast. Substitutes can be extremely important in Sevens, and the team could be helped greatly by some younger players that include freshmen Tommy Wallace and Michael McCarthy and sophomores Will Dewhurst, Michael Tillson, and Kevin O’Conner. All of these players and more will be needed in order to contend with the great collection of talented teams that will descend on Treasure Island on Oct. 26.