Sacramento State’s rugby club made some noise over the summer when they decided to move into the D1A competition and specifically into the California Conference which last year ended the season with four of its five teams in the top 20! National Champion Runners up St. Mary’s, San Diego State, Cal Poly and Santa Clara University all sat in the top 20 and a very capable program in UC Santa Barbra was the only one not in the ranking. This year Sac State will be the 6th team in what can be argued as one of the top conferences in DIA.
Sac State is not a varsity program, but it had a successful run in D1-AA where it amassed a 6-2 record and made it to the Elite 8. From there the team through it should seek to move up to the next level.
So we caught up with Blake Nicolas who is the president of the Sacramento State Rugby Club. Blake is in his third year with the club and was able to provide us with some insight into the decision to move up as well as what the Sac State program is doing and where it is seeking to go. Below is our interview.
The Rugby Republic (RR). What made Sacramento State decide to move up to D1-A?
Blake Nicolas (BN) As a club we decided to move up to D1-A because of how much we improved last year. Towards the end of the season I believe we had one of the best teams in Sac State history. We know we’ve been successful at the D1-AA level, so lets test ourselves. Our season was very long last year with 8 games in the regular season and 3 games for playoffs/nationals. The long season took a toll on many of our starting players. Players were injured and had to sit out games that we needed them to play in. The best part about D1-A is that we will have half the games, meaning more time in between games to practice and recover from previous games. The schedule in D1-A gives us a better option to play at a high level longer and you are now playing for more (National Champion).
RR: Was there a concern that moving up to D1-A would put you guys in a conference that had four top 20 teams? Or was that one of the things the enticed Sac State?
BN: There are definitely concerns about playing some of the top schools in the country, but I believe that our team is up for the challenge ahead. Playing against the best teams will inherently improve our team because better competition means less room for error. Preparation this year will be tougher than last year, but overall more beneficial. Our team also believes we are the underdogs so teams might think they can take our match lightly. Sac State rugby is known for coming out on the field and taking the other team by surprised with our physicality within the first 10 minutes. We think our type of play will allow us to be in the mix.
RR: How does Sac State get its players? Does the program recruit players to come to Sac State (since there is a robust youth and high school programs in the Sacramento area, or do you mostly recruit from on campus)?
BN: During rush week our club has a booth with flyers for practice times. As well as our coach has connections with many local high school coaches and looks at players on his free time. I guess we use a mix of both. Our club’s ranks were close to 45 players last year, so we are able to get players which is key.
RR: What is the experience level of most of your team this year?
BN: Most of the new guys have no experience with the sport before they get here. Our club is different to other teams because we don't cut people. If you want to play rugby you can come out and be dedicated to the team and learn how to play. So the guys here are here because the choose to be here.
RR: Last year Sac State had some great success in 7s. Are you focusing on 7s and if so are the players excited about it starting up?
BN: Actually, Sac State is not playing/running a 7's this year and so I doubt we will be ranked this go around.
RR- Since Sac State isn’t fielding a 7s side this season is the plan to shift now to 15 and just focus on 15s with the move up to D1-A?
BN: Yes, Our focus from now until the season is 15's. With us having moved up to D1-A our coach and our club decided to focus more on 15's because of the big skill gap we have entered into as well as the elevated level of the competition.
RR: So how are you guys planning and preparing then for the up coming season?
BN: In the fall our club is doing 3 practices a week (Tues/Thurs/Sat) with a running practice Saturday mornings. Our main focus is to have fit, in shape players that understand the game that Sac State plays. Teaching new players what our game plan is and making sure you can count on your teammate in the game is critical. Building chemistry with the people playing for A-side is a big deal. Without proper chemistry our team wouldn't be as good as we are so that’s where we are placing a lot of focus.
RR: Sac State is not a varsity program, so what type of support does the club get from the university if any?
BN: Our club gets tons of support from our university's club program, and no support from the university directly (because we aren’t a part of the athletic department). Our team does the best we can do in competition to show our school that we are capable of being a varsity program for the campus. We seek to play up and work at that level.
RR: What are a few strengths for the Sac State program?
BN: The friendship all the members have is astounding. Without having such a tight bond with everyone our team would not flow as well on the field. Our game is built on trust. Meaning if I give my 100% i know my teammate will give 110% of his all. Sac State rugby does not back down from any fight. No matter what the score is we will fight till the last whistle. We play rugby to play rugby and for each other. That makes it very easy to know why you are out there. It gives us focus.
RR: What is something people/readers out there should know about Sac State rugby?
BN: We are playing in the best league in the country. Competing with the top schools in the country, all while being a club sport. Most of the schools we play are established programs that have a standard coaching staff paid by the school, or their club or alumni. We have been lucky enough to have our coach Adam Macrae dedicate so much of his time to our program. He has been with our club for the past 4 years moving on to his 5th. You see the results of his work in our improvement. 100% without a doubt our club would not be as great as we are without the help of Adam Macrae!
RR: Why should some high school ruggers or someone on campus consider playing rugby at Sac State?
BN: We are competing in the highest collegiate division there is, playing against the best teams in the country. So competition wise we offer that. The bonds that we build as a club are astounding and will last for your entire life as will the memories. The lessons you will learn from our coach and from playing in games with our team will improve you as a person forever.
RR: Anything you want to add in closing?
BN: Yes. Adam Macrae (our coach) has a 5 things he always tells us that our club lives by:
1. Show Up 2. Work Hard 3. Master Your Craft 4. Be a Good Person 5. Be a Good Teammate
That is what we live by, that is our core and that is what we are about!
We want to thank Blake and Sac State Rugby for taking the time to talk to us. It takes some courage to move out of your comfort zone and to take on a higher level of competition, especially when they could have remained in D1-AA and had success. Now they will be tested and possibly challenged in the California Conference with five power programs, but the attitude and mindset of the Sac State players will set them for success in the future. So we wish them the best of luck in their first step in taking their program to the next level. You can follow them on-line as well as at D1-A.