Last Friday night, the UC Irvine men’s rugby club was ready to play ball. An hour before the game, the field filled with players warming up. The match against UCLA was supposed to be one of the toughest in the preseason and the players were eager to meet the challenge.
‘I’m very excited and I’ve been looking forward to this for months,’ said junior Will Twinn. ‘We’ve come a long way in the past three months and we’ve improved out of sight, especially the rookies.’
UCLA scored right out of the gate. UCI’s defense fumbled the ball several times, while their offense struggled with passing.
The first two quarters did not go as well as the Anteaters had hoped. They pushed hard against UCLA’s defense but could not get through to put points on the scoreboard.
Various penalties were called against both teams, limiting their effectiveness on the field. Spectators groaned as UCLA scored again, going into halftime with a 10-3 advantage over UCI.
Inspired by Coach Dai Morgan’s halftime pep talk, the UCI team rallied tremendously in the last two quarters.
It is said that athletics is 90 percent mental, and the team certainly proved it in the second half.
‘We came out slow in the beginning, but once Dai talked to us, we got really pumped up,’ said senior Captain Michael Sueoka. ‘In the second half we were fired up. We really came together. We clicked as a team.’
Skillful teamwork between Sueoka and Wendel evened the score at 10, and from then on the Anteaters were unstoppable.
Sophomore Taylor Alston scored twice late in the last quarter, giving the Anteaters a dramatic 27-10 come-from-behind-victory.
‘The first half we were sluggish and I was frustrated that we weren’t getting the ball,’ Alston said. ‘But we kept playing through it and then we really had our hearts in the game. We really wanted to win.’
UCI advanced from Division 2 Green to Division I Gold last season. Competing against Division I schools like UCLA gives the team great opportunities to improve their game and schedule top-ranked opponents.
‘We’re just looking to come out, play solid and win,’ said freshman Jonathan Sanchez.
Head Coach Dan Cossettini was also pleased with the team’s performance.
‘They’re up for the challenge,’ Cossettini said. ‘Tonight we had no expectations. We just wanted to play well. The play is more important than the score at this point. We had a very good practice week. We’re just going to run our own plays, but by halftime we’ll have a better idea of [UCLA’s] strengths and weaknesses.’
Those who were not playing formed a chute to clap and cheer their teammates onto the field. The team has bonded well over the past year, which definitely helped them progress, given the physical nature of the game.
‘Rugby is a very demanding sport,’ Sanchez said.
Club President Adam Heal considers the cohesion of the team his favorite aspect of the sport.
‘The camaraderie that we find on the pitch is the best part,’ Heal said. ‘We came into the game with the wrong attitude. That changed at halftime. We came out and found some momentum. UCLA looked stronger than us with bigger players, but we pulled together. It was really our game change that made the difference.’
The next game for the men’s rugby team will be on Friday, Dec. 1 against rivals Long Beach State, while the regular season beings on Jan. 27 against Westmont.
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