Kern County Rugby (based out of Bakersfield, California is putting in the work to get a “Seat at the table”. The Kern County plays in Southern California Rugby Football Union’s (SCRFU) Division II, which is a highly competitive league that includes the likes, of Ventura, Sin City Irish, Back Bay, Huntington Beach, South Bay Rhino and host of others.
We recently sat down with the Kern County Coach Wicus Postma and chatted about his team over some pastrami burgers in Bakersfield. Postma joined the club in 2010 when he moved to Bakersfield. He originally hails from Duran, South Africa and so rugby is a normal part of his life, but he almost didn’t join Kern County Rugby Club (KC). Postma recalled showing up to a training session in the rain, with poor fields, make shift posts and just through this isn’t what he’d been use to or felt would be good rugby. A busy man, he had to think about if this was going to be a good use of his time. However he did see the passion the boys had for the game and so he felt that he could suck it up and play with a group like that.
In 2011 Postma coached the 7s program working with the team to create a competitive 7s side that could be built on. He then worked as a player and assistant coach working with the forwards in 2012 under the leadership of longtime KC rugger Art Gonzalez who was coaching the boys.
In 2015 he (Postma) took over as head coach when Coach Art Gonzalez stepped away. Last season Postma and his wife had added two more kids to their family (twin boys) and time commitments at home now with three young boys didn’t afford him the time to really coach the KC. After a year off however Postma is back at the reins of KC and is committed to having his team emerge as a power in SCRFU’s DII.
When we sat down with Postma, KC had just concluded their “combine”. Postma told us “I get so many inquires from guys interested in taking up the sport asking when are tryouts, is there a combine, etc. that I felt doing a combine would be a good way to kickoff the season. So many guys here in the states are use to that type of a tryout or testing that I though it could help us engage guys who have never played and to assess all the players”. The combine for Postma would allow the players to also know what to focus on and for him what he'll need to teach. “I can get a better idea of their experience, interest, and skills through this combine process and really make an assessment, rate players and it is something that is part of American sports culture” said Postma.
At the October 15 combine KC had over 40 players come out, participate in basic rugby skills tests, and also complete Beep Tests, which were recorded and will be reviewed and tracked throughout the season for improvement. “We had over 40 guys and we have a few others who were unable to attend because of previous commitments” shared Postma “and we wrapped up the combine with a social which is different from American sports culture, but a good way for us to build some comradery for the new guys”.
The issue that KC could face is how to retain these numbers over the course of the season. In SCRFU teams are not required to field a B-side and for many teams this is an issue. SCRFU’s stance is if a club has sufficient players for a 2nd side that it can enter those sides in the next level down (so B-Side from a DII club with a full B-side can have their Bs play a full schedule DIII), or its left to teams to work with each other to coordinate a B-Side game for when they meet. For now Back Bay, Huntington Beach and Vegas will have their B's playing in DIII so they won't be available for B-Sides in DII, and the rest like KC and Ventura County will need to work out other options.
This logistic issue for SCRFU does pose issues for some clubs in both retaining players and also player development. At this time there isn’t a solution so Postma and KC are working to ensure games with other clubs.
Some of the other issues that pose a challenge for KC (and likely most of the league) is the shear size of the SCRFU geographical area. KC’s opponents are on the central California Coast (SLO 150 mile drive), Las Vegas 300 mile drive, south for 200 miles away to Oceanside (just outside of San Diego) and all the teams in the greater Los Angeles area which with traffic can still be an hour and a half to two hours each way. Postma noted that some of their players are younger guys who are not yet in their professional careers and to be able to get the time off each Saturday and/or just the time and travel for games poses an issue (likely the same for some of the other clubs in the union). “Last year we'd have 40 guys for some home games and then on others barely field a full side for away games” explained Postma “there is also a cost for those younger guys. A bus could help, but there is still a cost to that”. What may be an option for the DII in SCRFU is to do some super sites as NCRFU has done for a few games to mitigate some of the travel issues.
Postma is confident that regardless of the challenges, KC can emerge as one of the top sides this season. KC rugby has two players (Jacob Thomas and Tom Bruce) who made the SCRFU selects sides-Griffins, Bruce is continuing to train with the selects (which is still an issue in terms of the travel to training sessions in Los Angeles). Additionally, through some former players and new contacts KC has had some players travel to Australia to play over the past few years. “Most aren’t going there to become superstars, but taking advantage of the chance to play overseas, but they are playing in more established systems, the players are really developing fast and then returning here with more experience and improved skill set. It’s really been a positive for Kern to be able to have players go and see rugby at a different level and scale”. One such player Jacob Thomas has just returned. Postma noted another player Zech Browden, who didn’t pick up the game until he was an adult has been overseas playing in Australia where he’s blossomed and next is heading to play for a club in France. Some of those caliber players will be returning to the mix, but Postma has a very athletic team regardless. “We’ve got boys who have the athletics, now we will develop their rugby skills and they’ll be difficult for opponents to handle”
KC’s success will be base on Postma’s mantra for the season; back to basics. Postma, a proud South African harped on the All Blacks principle that you must do all the basics well, that you do not need talent to do the basis well. You need to do them well and do them consistently. Postma has been working to get his team to focus on movement versus just holding the line, to play with support and play with each other than to be a star. “Our success will really be built on having a team culture. It has to be a team, each one working with everyone else on the pitch. If we can do that with the talent we have and the athletes we can run with most anyone” explained Postma.
“We’ve got the commitment, now we are building the team culture, and that is through team potlucks and socials, but also the work we do in training and off the pitch” said Postma. KC has gained access to a gym through their longtime sponsor Pair & Marotta Physical Therapy. KC has been training there for free using the gym and working with the practice’s strength and conditioning coach twice a week for team sessions (including early Friday evening). “Without a sponsor giving us that value some of our guys wouldn’t be able to train in that type of environment, as it would cost too much, so we are grateful” shared Postma. This coming weekend the boys are headed up to the Tehachapi Mountains for a training session at altitude (close to four thousand feet compared to the 404ft in Bakersfield) and to change up the pace.
The club has also secured a new sponsor TCF Massage which is providing sports massages and helping the team. As you already know from our article with Sarah Sall the USA Eagle's Massage Therapist there is great value in massage therapy for sports performance. KC’s newest partner is a massage therapist who is assisting the club by attending one training session a week, before the practice starts to help in some pre-workout, as well as being available for home games to help with pre-game work/warm-up to prepare the players.
It’s clear that Postma and KC are applying the effort and resources to have success this season. This has ranged from team training sessions off the pitch, to activities to build team culture. KC is also working to develop and retain players which will also be key for any club looking to emerge from the competitive and physical leagues in California and onto Nationals.
As we said before the boys in Bakersfield are looking for a seat at the table of California's top rugby clubs and they are doing the work now to help them earn that spot. We want to thank Coach Wicus Postma for meeting up with us and the Kern County boys for their time. SCRFU DII is going to be interesting this season with so many possible clubs that can emerge on top.
Make sure to follow Kern County on Facebook/KernCountyRugbyFootballClub and Instagram @kerncountyrugbyclub