By Ray Hamill — Cal Poly Humboldt men’s rugby is inviting the local sports community to check out their brand of football this weekend, as college rugby returns to the Redwood Bowl.
As part of their Alumni Weekend celebrations, the Cal Poly men will play one of their biggest rivals, the Cal Maritime Keelhaulers, under the lights on Saturday night in a game with plenty on the line.
The Jacks have not beaten the Keelhaulers on home turf since 2008, although they did post a breakthrough win over them on the road last season and will be hoping for more of the same on Saturday.
The game will feature free admission and the Jacks are hoping for a big turnout as they look to build the program and create more local ties.
The club team, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the latest NCR (National College Rugby) small schools poll and the team has eyes on winning a national championship this year.
But that’s just one of the Jacks’ goals.
According to assistant coach Vincent Celloto, they want to move up from the small schools bracket and compete with some of the bigger programs here on the West Coast in the coming years.
The program appears to be building some momentum in that direction and is making moves to get there, including the addition of scholarships.
Team boosters have been working with the university foundation to create a scholarship fund, and the Cal Poly administration also provides one housing scholarship to the team.
The Jacks are also looking to build more of a presence locally, with the possibility of providing a local scholarship in the future.
In addition, there are tentative plans to hold local Rugby Sevens tournaments for high school aged players as a way to introduce more local athletes to the sport.
“There are a lot more opportunities for rugby at the college level than ever before,” said Celloto, who added. “And we want to take this program to a higher level.”
The team’s more immediate concern, however, is the Keelhaulers, and if the Jacks want to win a national championship, they must first get by a team that has proven to bo their biggest stumbling block for much of the past decade.
“Our goal this year is to win a national championship in the small schools division and the first step is beating Cal Maritime,” Celloto said.
The strength of this year’s team was supposed to be an experienced and big group of forwards, but a new-look back line is coming together quicker than anticipated and looked good in a couple of preseason games recently.
“I would say the forwards are our strength,” Celloto said. “We have a lot of guys that have been playing together (for a few years), and the new guys we brought in have a lot of experience. But we’ve been really surprised with the back line coming together.
“We’re hopeful, but we’ve got to do the work.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at 6 p.m., with the club’s alumni team, the Old Growth, playing Mendocino at 3 p.m.
The first two scholarships were awarded to freshmen Miguel Cornejo, who will start on Saturday, and Bryce Arlington, who will see time off the bench.
Former high school national champion Logan Zampa from Napa also joins the team this year after transferring in from Cal Maritime, while former McKinleyville Panther Justin Celotto is back for his senior season and will captain the side at scrum half.
Hooker Jason Uipi will captain the forwards.
Categories: Cal Poly Humboldt, rugby
What Humboldt State needs to do this year is make rugby a varsity sport, both mens and womens. The athletic department should drive this opportunity. Why are they not doing so?