Members of the men’s rugby team practice on the lower East Field during their Thursday practice. The team is preparing for a memorial match in honor of former team member Benjamin Quaye, who died February last year. Photo by Prescott Watson.

Shade slowly crept over the lower field last Thursday afternoon as the men’s rugby team huddled in a scrum. Grasping each other’s shoulders and grunting inaudible commands, grass flew as each scrimmaging team struggled to hook the ball to their eightman. As the sun continued sinking, loud guffaws and sideline banter pierced the air as men watched their teammates on the field.

“Just a year ago, we didn’t even have enough players to field a full scrimmage,” senior forward Colin Dalton said. “Now we have 30 on the pitch and then some.”

The men’s rugby team, a club sport, has seen exponential growth and improvement in the last year. This is due in part to its new coach, Jeremy Sanford.

Sanford, who joined the team in 2008, began exercising more control over the team’s development in 2009.

“He brought a lot toward the infrastructure side of the club,” team president Philip Brody said. “He really wanted us to get together a student committee that was accountable. He wanted us to embrace the fact that we are the ones who should be making the decisions.”

The development of this mentality has led the club to be completely student-run.

“Our coaches are our coaches — they don’t do any of the administrative stuff,” Brody said. “That’s what we do.”

The rebuilt team will take part in a match against rival San José State University this Saturday. The match will serve as a “then and now” memorial event to honor those who have helped UCSC men’s rugby since its founding in 1967 as the first club on campus. It will also be played in remembrance of club friend and teammate Benjamin Quaye.

Quaye died in the early morning hours of February 7, 2009 the day after the team’s victory against Humboldt State University. The night that the teammates heard the news, they gathered at a Chinese restaurant and remembered their friend.

“We told stories about Ben and we were crying,” team captain Michael Richtik said. “We then walked over to where he passed and we all said something about him. The next weekend, about 20 of us drove down to be at his funeral.”

There, the team gave Quaye’s mother his jersey, and retired his number for the remainder of the year.

“It was tough,” Brody said. “It definitely took the wind out of the sails for a while.”

Though it was initially difficult, Sanford and teammates agree that the loss of their teammate was one of the major factors that brought the team closer.

“This season, the team is especially tight-knit,” Sanford said. “The loss of Quaye was a big blow to everyone … but it helped pull the team together, so this year there has been a real emphasis on teamwork and commitment.”