By Ray Hamill — This weekend, the Humboldt State men’s rugby team will celebrate its past as it looks to the future.
The Jacks will officially kick off their 45th season as a club team at the school with their annual alumni game, and the coaches are expecting a big turnout for the milestone occasion.
“Typically, we get about 40 to 50 that turn out for the alumni game, but this weekend we may have 60 or 70 driving up,” long-time HSU rugby coach Vincent Celotto said.
And the coaches are hoping to use the occasion to reach out to the alumni, as the Jacks try to adapt to the modern game and training advancements in order to build the program for the future.
“We have a lot of exciting things going on right now,” Celotto said. “We’re updating our training equipment, and we’re reaching out to alumni, and we’re building the team.”
The game will be played as part of a doubleheader at College Creek Field on Saturday, with the women’s team also playing their alumni game.
The women kick off at 11 a.m., followed by the men at 1 p.m.
Ambitions to grow
With a limited roster in terms of numbers, in recent years the Jacks have been unable to compete at the Division-I collegiate level as they have in the past, instead joining the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO), which has grown substantially over the past decade to more than 200 schools.
HSU plays in the Northern California College Rugby Conference, and last season made it all the way to the region championship.
The Jacks compete with schools like Sonoma State and Santa Rosa JC.
The club, however, has ambitions to climb the ladder and to get back to its competitive roots and play again with teams like Chico State and Santa Clara, something Celetto admits many of the alumni want to see.
“We’re building the team back, we’ve got some really good talent, but NSCRO is probably a good fit for us now,” the coach said. “But our goal is to grow. A lot of our alumni would like to go back to a Division-I schedule.”
To do that, the Jacks will have to build the roster size, something that’s always a challenge, and something the Jacks have always done the old way.
“We’re very inclusive,” Celetto said. “The students on campus, they just need to come out and we’ll welcome them.”
This year, the Jacks feature a roster of around 30 players, and Celotto and head coach Greg Pargee expect the team to be a competitive one again.
“I’m real proud of the quality of the squad right now,” Celetto said. “And we really do have high expectations this year.
“We have a lot of team speed on our back line, from the wing to the fly half, probably one of the fastest lines in all of NSCRO.
“And we have size in the pack. Our pack has always been solid, and now I see size. We just don’t have a lot of numbers in the pack.”
The annual game against the alumni is always a tough one for the younger players on the school team, and they don’t expect this year to be any different.
“It’s going to be hard for us to compete with the size and the knowledge of the alumni,” Celetto admitted. “Every year it’s a tough game. But by the same token, we’re going to coach our players to play fast.”
The Jacks will play their regular season opener in early December, with the majority of their schedule coming after Christmas.
And it all begins with this weekend’s festivities.
“45 seasons, we have a lot of alumni, we have a lot of history,” Celotto said. “So it’s a big one. We definitely have a lot of alumni coming up.”