The men’s rugby team had its league game on Jan. 31 against Sacramento State. UCSC lost by only three points, with the final score 46-43. Now that only the top four teams in the division go to the playoffs, this year is more competitive than ever.
“Everyone was really intense the entire time, we had 23 penalties or more,” said team captain and president Tom Beeman. “But we were playing a good enough team that you can’t make twice as many penalties as them and expect to win.”
Founded in 1967 — two years after UC Santa Cruz — the men’s rugby team is the oldest sports club on campus. The sport is often seen as the precursor to football, with similar formatting and scoring elements, as the end zone is the try zone and worth five points, field goals are worth two points and a drop kick or penalty kick is worth three points.
“In rugby, the 15 people who are working together are always going to win,” Beeman said. “You can’t have just one star player in one game. In the moment you have to have really good team chemistry and off the field we are all super close.”
The iconic rugby uniform has made the sport recognizable — a protective helmet for some players, but for the Slugs, a black-and-yellow-striped jersey and knee socks and short shorts. They wear no pads or protective gear, which can be proved by their battle wounds — bruises, cuts and black eyes.
During preseason in the fall, the Slugs faced many challenges from rained-out games to a new practice schedule because of the closed facilities, but they adapted. Team vice president Miles Stern started a new program to supplement the increasing costs of the program due to travel and practice costs through finding city business sponsors and incorporating community involvement to gain more fans.
Travel and fixtures coordinator Scott Griffin said the team’s kick-off tournament in October, Slugfest, hosted teams from all over the state.
“The closing of the field has been really tough for us because as a club sport we depend on that field [for practices and games], and we were not able to have any home games during the fall,” Griffin said.
The rugby club has dedicated coaches — both alumni and faculty — but is a student-run club, with a leadership team of nine members.
The Slugs play in the division I-AA league of USA Rugby, which has also changed this year by going from seven teams to nine, with the addition of UC Davis and Sacramento State. UCSC will play Chico State on Feb. 7 at home — a game that carries a lot of the history between the two teams.
“Two years ago we lost the league championship to Chico. They are the most aggressive team in the league so you have to come out really intense against them,” team captain Beeman said. “We are very focused on our next game against Chico. We hope to end up in playoffs as our larger goal.”
The UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball team is en route to another winning season with a 6-2 record through January. Ranked the No. 7 Division III team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, the Slugs will face off against division competitors Thursday at No. 10 Elmira College in southern New York.
The team closed out its first month of action with two consecutive wins over the final weekend in January as it swept Santa Barbara City College and UC Merced.
“This year we have a really good team,” said head coach Todd Hollenbeck. “But we want to build a championship character that shapes everyday decisions, whether it’s on the court or not.”
Senior middle blocker Branden Torado said having completed the preseason, the team is looking forward to its next steps and is focusing on the next two tournaments, which will be the most crucial of the season.
To start their regular season schedule, the Slugs will travel to New York and Wisconsin to play in tournaments that will pit them against some of the top Division III teams in the country, including No. 5 Carthage, No. 9 Nazareth and No. 15 Medaille. The team’s performances in these tournaments will likely determine its fate when it comes time for seeding and selection for the NCAA tournament in April.
“We look forward to every match, but there is a lot of traveling,” Hollenbeck said. “We leave on Wednesday for Rochester, New York. We play one match on Thursday, one on Friday and two on Saturday. It’s really difficult physically, mentally and emotionally to have our games so compacted.”
The team’s deep bench has been one of its main assets so far this season. Torado attributes much of the team’s success to the ability of the younger players to step up and play different positions effectively while still getting comfortable.
“The group of guys we have, and the upperclassman who have been on this stage before, all smell a national championship and that is what our vision is,” Torado said. “For the last two years we’ve had many opportunities to fail, and have learned from those, but this squad genuinely knows how to win and face adversity.”