By Ray Hamill — Rugby will return to the Redwood Bowl next week, when the Humboldt State men kick off the new season against Sonoma State.
It’s been a difficult year for HSU rugby, with COVID hitting the men’s team hard and a hazing controversy early in the summer, but the Jacks are eager to put all of that behind them and continue to build a proud program that has been playing at the local university for almost half a century now.
“It was just heartbreaking to see everything that happened,” assistant coach Vincent Celotto said.
The Jacks have a roster of 24 players this season, down from a sizable squad of 34 a year and a half ago, which closed out 2020 as the National Collegiate Rugby’s small schools No. 7 team in the nation and the top-ranked team in Northern California.
There have been no playoffs contested for the past two years because of the pandemic, and the team has graduated two deep senior classes since they last played a game in March 2020.
Despite the low numbers, however, the Jacks do have several talented players on hand, including a bruising pack, and if they can avoid too many injuries then this year’s team will be expected to compete well.
“I think we have a talented team, but we’re going to lack depth,” Celotto said. “We have a big bruising pack that should definitely be strong, but we’ve also got some talented backs and some speed.”
With the hazing incident now behind them, team representatives recently met with HSU’s new Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics & Campus Recreation, Cooper Jones, and described it as a productive meeting.
“I think the new administration is really doing things and want to win,” Celotto said. “We’re trying to build trust and show them that we think we have a hidden gem here that could be bigger.”
The season opener will be played at the Redwood Bowl a week from Saturday, with kickoff set for 1 p.m.
The team, which has been practicing together three times a week since early September, will be taking all COVID precautions.
“Everybody has been vaccinated and we’re following the guidelines,” Celotto said, adding that “I’m crossing my fingers we can pull this season off.”