This year’s Occidental Rugby Football Club (0-2) is facing a tough transition, making a move from Division III to Division II and going up against larger schools like UC Riverside and the Claremont Colleges.
“We’re playing bigger teams and teams that are coached better than we have in the past,” team vice-president and co-captain Jack Gephart (senior) said.
In addition to the team’s tougher schedule, 11 of 15 starters graduated after last season, and have been replaced primarily by freshmen, many of whom had hardly touched a rugby pill before this year.
“I think the first game we had seven rookies start,” team president Andy Eichar said. “That’s their first college game ever. We’re throwing them into this brutal sport.”
These changes have lead to some bleak results in the Blackshirts’ first two matches. The team has been outscored by over 100 points and still have not yet scored a try. But those score lines do not speak to the mentality of the team.
The coaching staff attributes the teams early woes primarily to its inexperienced roster.
“It’s very much a learning process for these guys,” Head coach Fernando Zepeda ’14 said.
Zepeda, who is one of the starters that graduated last year, is in many ways learning as much as his young team. He took over the job from former-coach Dallen Stanford, who left the position to pursue a career in rugby broadcasting.
“I just took on this role as it came along,” Zepeda said.”I wasn’t planning on coaching. I’m trying to start my career just coming out of college. But rugby gave me a lot.”
Zepeda is trying to make the best of this transitional year. According to Gephart, Zepeda has been running the same game-plan that the team ran last year, which has allowed the team’s leaders to mentor younger players. In addition, he has already established relationships with the senior players he formerly played with.
“It’s been great to have consistency. I think the consistency has really helped to mesh the old with the new,” Gephart said.
Because the team’s chief problem is inexperience, players and coaches are excited about the future of the squad.
“If we keep on building our team, and we get a deep roster, that’s what it’s all about,” Eichar said. “We have to be realistic about some things but it’s not a rebuilding year.”
Some of the new players believe that they can be as dominant a unit as the 11 seniors who graduated last year.
“We have more room to grow than any other team because we’re graduating two people this year, so we’ll have basically the same team next year,” Marlon Haas-Savinelli (first-year) said. “We have skill and we have determination, we just need a little bit of time.”