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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Win over Sun Devils redeems ‘ugly’ start

    Claire C. Laurence/ Arizona Daily Wildcat 

Arizonas junior flanker Kevin Hills pulls in a ball during the Varsity rugbys squads ( ____ loss) to California Poly-Poloma on Sunday afternoon at Estavan Park.
    Claire C. Laurence/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona’s junior flanker Kevin Hills pulls in a ball during the Varsity rugby’s squad’s ( ____ loss) to California Poly-Poloma on Sunday afternoon at Estavan Park.

    Men’s club rugby season recap

    If the Arizona men’s club rugby team’s season could be compared to a prize-fighting boxer’s championship bout, there were several times when players were on the floor with blood smeared across their teeth, seconds away from throwing in the towel and ending the pain.

    But even with injuries to as many as six key players at any one time, the Ruggers (7-6, 3-5 SoCal Conference) refused to give up, and they were rewarded with a moment of against-all-odds glory in the ring. It came midway through the first half of their final game, on the road against ASU (7-5, 4-4).

    “”(ASU) was unlike any other game – it almost had a football-type atmosphere,”” said junior flanker Chris Dublinski. “”There were fans on both sides cheering whenever someone would score.””

    With starting junior flanker Chris Hintz on his way to the hospital after suffering a severe trauma to his trachea and down a man due to a yellow-carded penalty, the Ruggers trailed 15-7 and seemed to be destined to finish the season with a losing record.

    That was when the team finally cemented. Senior flyhalf Mark Gallo, who had been out most of the season with a knee injury, placed an exceptional penalty kick within ASU’s 10-meter line, eventually setting up the opportunity for junior flanker Kevin Hills to push the ball into the try zone.

    The uppercut had landed, and the Ruggers would not look back again.

    “”That was the best moment of the season,”” Arizona head coach Dave Sitton said. “”It was a very stressful situation, to say the least, but the players responded. They finally put it all together.””

    It was a historic victory – Arizona’s 31st straight against the Sun Devils and a “”great note to send the seniors out on,”” Gallo said – in a season that was decidedly short on positive historic moments.

    The first-ever Pacific 10 Tournament was another of those few and far between moments. It preceded conference play for the Ruggers and consisted of four 20-minute games on the first day, which set up the seeding for the final games on the second day. Arizona finished in ninth place but managed to add its first official victory for the spring season in the process.

    “”(The tournament) was a tremendous event for programs in the Pac-10 Conference,”” Sitton said. “”It’s really a celebration of the game and the schools involved. I’m proud we had a part in organizing it.””

    Unfortunately, the tournament, which Dublinski described as “”the most tiring experience of my life”” did more to wear out the Ruggers than pump them up.

    The Ruggers began conference play with three straight losses, including their first in over a decade to UC-San Diego (1-5 SoCal) in a closely contested 36-29 game. That was followed immediately, without any time to stanch the bleeding, by two additional losses, including the Ruggers’ worst-ever SoCal conference defeat, 49-0 against No. 8 Cal Poly (14-2, 7-0) – only the second time in history that Arizona has been shut out.

    “”(The early season) was ugly,”” Sitton said. “”I tried to figure out what was important to the players and how to capture their imaginations, how to get them motivated.””

    That effort was made all the more difficult because of what Sitton described as the “”devastating”” scale of injuries that the team suffered.

    “”What the injuries did to us was to cause a double loss because we schedule two matches per weekend,”” Sitton said. “”If we lose a top player, we lose 80 to 160 minutes per weekend.””

    Arizona and ASU are the only two teams that schedule in that way, he said.

    Despite all of the injury-induced obstacles, senior leaders like Gallo still tried to contribute in any way they could.

    “”I thought, ‘how could I still help these guys,'”” Gallo said. “”I tried to be their second eyes on the field during the game so that they could better understand the game and what was going on.””

    With that effort, the Ruggers recovered somewhat in the middle of the season with two wins against Long Beach State (10-5-1, 3-4-1) and UCLA (1-5 SoCal), and it seemed for a while as if they were going to make the playoffs. Two brutal beatings at San Diego (1-5 SoCal) and San Diego State (12-3, 4-2), however, destroyed that possibility and ensured Arizona its first losing conference season ever.

    Despite that disappointment, “”The senior class is going to leave a very good program behind,”” Sitton said.

    And of course, the lessons that the players learned during the course of their time on the rugby field go far beyond any short-term satisfaction like a playoff berth.

    “”I’ve learned that you have to earn everything in life,”” Gallo said.

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