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Golden Medals: Cal Rugby in Varsity Cup Preview; Cal W Gym’s Palomares at NCAA

Cal Rugby may not be as good as last year’s national championship winning squad, but neither is the rest of the Varsity Cup field this year.

Cal Women’s Gymnastics’ Desiree Palomares will compete for an individual national championship on the balance beam this weekend.
Cal Women’s Gymnastics Twitter

Cal Rugby looks to repeat as Varsity Cup national champions

After a bye in the first round last weekend, the California Golden Bears (14-3) will make a trip to Clemson (who are located in South Carolina, FYI) for the Varsity Cup quarterfinals match this Saturday (10 AM PT). Clemson used their depth to defeat Dartmouth 36-29 in their first round match last week.

Should the Bears advance (of course, the Cal Bears are heavy favorites in this match although there have been several close calls in early round Varsity Cup matches in recent years), they will get to host the winner between Army and Penn State (match will be hosted by Penn State) at Witter Rugby Field next Saturday in the semifinal. The Varsity Cup final will finally move outside of the state of Utah this year (thanks in part to the withdraw of BYU from this national championship) and take place in the Bay Area - Santa Clara University will host on Saturday, May 6th at a time TBD.

Golden Bears are looking to bounce back from their 27-24 home loss to St. Mary’s Gaels from three weeks ago. While the Gaels are considered one of the best team in the country (even ranked ahead of the Bears prior to that match by some publications), a home loss to the East Bay neighbor was shocking, even if that program is definitely on the rise since they have Cal alum Tim O’Brien (2017 USA Rugby Hall of Fame inductee) in charge of the program. Fortunately for the Bears (perhaps, in the short term), neither St. Mary’s nor perennial nemesis BYU (who have played Cal in all of the Varsity Cup finals since the existence of that tournament 5 years ago) are in the Varsity Cup final. Instead, those two teams (as well as rugby powerhouse, Life University) will play in the D1A Rugby National Championships (interestingly, the article points out that Cal will not compete in this playoffs - Golden Bears are now sort of affiliated with USA Rugby who runs the D1A national championship due to their sponsorship of the PAC Rugby Conference). Interestingly, the D1A Rugby National Championship will also take place on Saturday, May 6th from the Bay Area at 4 PM PT; it will be hosted by St. Mary’s. As much as the two collegiate rugby 15s national championships are competing against one another (both will be televised as well, Varsity Cup on NBC Sports Network while D1A is on the less common CBS Sports Network), you would hope for rugby fans’ sake that they two matches are temporally separated so that Bay Area rugby fans may even attend both.

The Varsity Cup consists of a 14 team fields, you can see the live bracket here. Central Washington (one of the few schools where Rugby is a Varsity Sport) has the first round bye in the other side of the bracket; the Bears defeated Central Washington 14-13 in the semifinal from Witter last year. Late replacement (for Utah Utes) Utah Valley University surprised in the first round by taking out UCLA 40-14. They will play at Arkansas State, who downed Oklahoma 69-7 in the first round. Central Washington will travel to Navy in the other quarterfinal match in the other half of the bracket. On the Cal side, Penn State bested Harvard 100-7 last week, and Army defeated Notre Dame 41-8. In last year’s quarterfinal match, host Army gave the Golden Bears a scare before Cal prevailed 41-29 en route to their first Varsity Cup national championship.

Given the greater depth than just about all other college rugby teams in the United States, Golden Bears are in a uncommon place in this 2016-17 season in depending on numerous underclassman. Having three fifth year seniors (yes, they will not be eligible if rugby is governed by the NCAA) in Russell Webb, Anthony Salaber, and Patrick Barrientes have definitely kept the Bears afloat as national title contenders despite losing guys like senior Thomas Robles to season ending injuries. Bears will also have less experienced seniors of Connor Sweet, Wade Ogbur, Kevin Sullivan, and Drew Gaffney in other key positions. Freshmen Damon Wiley, Sid Holland, Thomas Spradling, Keanu Andrade, and Sam Cusano will either start or see pivotal playing time.

I expect a very similar (if not the same) starting line up as against St. Mary’s College.

Clemson will have more upperclassmen in their lineup, but they probably don’t have the experiences of the Golden Bears. The Tigers had to come from behind to beat Dartmouth last week before pulling away in the 2nd half behind their upperclassman line of forwards.

From preview:

Clemson started an all-upperclassmen set of forwards against Dartmouth and figures to do the same against the Bears. The Tigers fell behind early against the Big Green but fought their way back, thanks in part to a 55-meter rumbling try by junior lock Liam Hellstrom that was followed in the first half by a powerful finish from junior flanker Joel Jaldin. Cal may see the same powerful front row for Clemson in seniors Joshua Dyson, Alex Wolhlers and Nick Bilgri; agile locks in senior Stuart Harr and Hellstrom; and an experienced back row featuring Jaldin, fellow junior Tommy Rippert and former All-America Jason Damm, a senior, at No. 8. Clemson's backs feature strong ballcarriers, highlighted by senior winger Colin Gregory, who scored two second-half tries to help put Dartmouth away.

Unfortunately, neither this match nor the semifinal match next week will be broadcasted/streamed.

The Clemson Rugby Facebook page will stream the action on Saturday.

If the St. Mary’s loss can be a blessing in disguise, expect the Golden Bears to play hard for the full 80 minutes this week. Bears were in a great position to beat the Gaels before allowing two late tries (and conversions) for that match to be turned. The stakes (this being the playoffs) are simply too high for the Bears to mess around. We can debate in the future whether the Varsity Cup national champion is more worthy than the D1A national champion, but let the Golden Bears win this repeat title first. Despite the loss to Saint Mary’s and being dominated by UBC this season, Golden Bears will hopefully step up when it counts the most in this national championship playofs.


Cal Women’s Gymnastics’ Desiree Palomares at NCAA Championship

After winning the Fayetteville beam title with a 9.90, Cal senior Desiree Palomares is in St. Louis this weekend for the NCAA Championships where she will have the chance to compete for the national title on the balance beam.

Palomares will compete with the Florida's balance beam rotation (4th rotation of the evening) in semifinal II. Semifinal II begins at 5 p.m. PT and will be broadcasted live on ESPNU (as well as watchESPN app). A dedicated balance beam broadcast is also available via ESPN3.

Palomares has matched a career best 9.90 on beam 3 times this season. She will likely need that score (if not more) to be competitive. Her appearance at the NCAA Championships mark the 3rd consecutive year that Cal Women’s Gymnastics have some representation at the biggest meet of the season. Toni-Ann Williams made the meet as an All Around individual in 2015 before the Cal squad made the national championships in 2016 (while Toni-Ann Williams had to miss it to qualify for the Rio Olympics).

Amazing back-to-back holes in one for Cal Men’s Golf freshman William Aldred

In case you missed it, Cal redshirt freshman William Aldred did something that’s super rare in golf - back-to-back holes-in-one. He accomplished this rare feat at the 71st annual Western Intercollegiate on April 9th. Too bad there are no video evidences of the shots. You can hear him talk about this phenomenal feat though.

Hole on, You Bears indeed.