Not The Size Of The School...But The Fight In The School That Matters: Claremont Colleges

Claremont College has just completed its regular season going 6-0 and winning the Gold Coast Conference. They are now preparing for an other post season run, in a tough region (Pacific West). The Claremont Colleges (we'll explain that plural in a second) are eyeing the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) National Championship, but they do have a few steps before they get there. Claremont is not new to national or high level rugby, the team won the USA Rugby Collegiate Division II National Championship back in 2010. 
Back to how The Claremont Colleges work. The Claremont Colleges  includes Claremont McKennna College, Pomona College, Pitzer College, Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College. Together they are a consortium of small liberal arts colleges located together in Claremont, California which are called the Claremont Colleges. The colleges together have approximately 3,900 under-grad students. Academically the colleges are known as some of the top five colleges for Liberal Arts, nationally ranked for engineering, as well as areas such as political science, public policies, and economics. Players for the rugby side are drawn from four of the colleges (as Scripps is an all girls college). 

Coach Scott Bracken (Photo by Darrell Knowlton)

Coach Scott Bracken (Photo by Darrell Knowlton)

To really get a closer look at the Claremont College team we spoke with their coach Scott Bracken.  Bracken has coached Claremont since 2010, and took over as head coach in 2014. Bracken's rugby experience started back in 1988 with San Diego State University. He played club rugby for 17 years which included stints with the Eagles (national team) in the min 1990s. Bracken has a strong coaching background which has included the USA High School All Americans and the National Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (ERIA).  Needless to say he knows a few things about rugby. 

Below is our interview with Coach Bracken about his Claremont boys. 

The Rugby Republic (RR): Coach, to what do you attribute Claremont's success, especially being a small school? You don't have scholarship so is its past success, coaching, recruitment or systems? What's the key? 
Scott Braken (SB): You are correct.  There are no athletic scholarships.  Our success is a result of many things:  We have great support from the colleges. We run our program professionally.  We have a full time athletic trainer and team manager.  Our players are held to a very high standard by each other.  The coaching staff are all very accomplished and our student athletes are smart and athletic.  We emphasize playing for one another, the program and the colleges, not the individual. We also think outside of the box from coaching, team building and playing perspectives. Some of the most memorable moments we have had as a team were not on the rugby pitch.

RR: Does the program get support from the school or is the program driven by dues, alumni, etc.
SB: We are fortunate to have unbelievable support from our alumni, parents and the colleges.  The players pay dues but they are quite low for what they receive in return. 

RR: How do you get your players? Do you guys recruit rugby players to come study and play or does most of the recruitment come from on campus efforts?
SB: I am highly involved in elite high school rugby programs such as the US High School All Americans and the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (EIRA).  I am fortunate to know and coach the best high school rugby players in the US. There is always a lot of interest in our program among high school players. As they are among the most prestigious schools in the country, The Claremont Colleges recruit themselves. On campus, we recruit through word of mouth and many of our players are two sport athletes as well, but the status of schools and program do play a big factor. 

RR: For any school its important,  but for small schools how much of a factor is it to have coaching consistency and experience?
SB: For any organization, consistent and effective leadership is essential.  For a small school rugby program it is a huge factor.   We are able to recruit athletes who buy in because they know the staff has been there for a while and are not going anywhere. The experience our entire staff has adds to the bona-fides of the overall program. 

RR: What was the goal/plan for this season? Was it to win nationals, get to nationals, win the conference...?
SB: We are performance, not results driven. Our mindset is that if our performance during preparation and matches are up to standard, results will take care of themselves.  We don't talk about winning and losing, we talk about performing.  With that said, of course we have discussed team goals.  The primary team focus is always on the next match.  We never look beyond what is in front of us. The National Championship is our ultimate goal but we have other goals to achieve first.  Winning the conference championship was great but now we are on to the next task.

RR: How are you motivating the team and keep them going into the playoffs after a great season so far? 
SB: We keep the atmosphere of the team fun and loose, yet very focused.  We vary activities at training and as I mentioned before, try to think outside of the box to keep the fun in the game.  The best motivator is the team itself.  The players do a tremendous job of keeping each other going.

RR: Do you feel/think the current college season is too short, or just right for your program?
SB: For us, I think the season is just right. When you factor in possible playoffs, etc. 

Click on image to learn about Dollar Beard Club 

Click on image to learn about Dollar Beard Club 

RR: Who do you see as programs on the rise or that can challenge Claremont among the smaller rugby schools in SoCal?
SB: Each match is a challenge.  There are a lot of teams in SoCal doing great things to improve.  Each team in our conference is capable of beating any other team. Just to name a few, California Lutheran and Azusa Pacific University (APU) are always tough matches.  UC San Diego had a rough season but are full of young athletes.  They will turn some heads soon! The overall quality of rugby in SoCal continues to improve each year.

RR: Are there players people should be aware of or look out for, and do you have any who have received accolades (selects, awards)? 
SB: People should look out for all of our players. Haha!   Our #9,  Bobby Chui is one of the few NSCRO players in the US Collegiate All American Pool!   Freshman #2 Omar Rodriguez was a San Diego and SoCal High School Rugby All Star.  We have a number of All Conference football players and an All Conference water polo player who are also on our team. We have multi-sport athletes as mentioned earlier.

Bobby Chui, Scrum Half (Photo- Clarmont College)

Bobby Chui, Scrum Half (Photo- Clarmont College)

RR: What percentage of your players would you say continue to play rugby after college, and do they play with local clubs?
SB: Not many of our players continue to play after college but a few do.  Unless they continue in grad school, our players typically have very good, high paying careers waiting for them upon graduation so it is difficult to continue with rugby. We have a few locals but most of our student athletes are from all over the US.  We have some from Hong Kong, Canada and Chile as well.

RR: You don't have to answer this if you don't want to. Is there a side that you feel in early parts of the playoffs could challenge your boys, and how do you prepare for that
SB: Every team is a challenge in the playoffs, that's why they are there.  We will play Loyola Marymount University first.  They can beat us if we are not prepared and don't perform so we must be ready! Cal Maritime ended our season last year and are having another great campaign.  Steve Hiatt has created and is running a great program up there in Vallejo. They are the standard for NSCRO out west.  We have improved since last season as have they.  I would like a chance to measure ourselves against them again this season.

RR: What are the strengths of your side (experienced players, confidence, size)???
SB: The team really has taken strength and conditioning to a different level this season and it shows.  We have experience in key positions and are athletic throughout the team.  We have more depth than in previous seasons.  I think the biggest strength is that the players are having a lot of fun and really enjoy being around each other.

RR: If there is a high school rugby players who want to play for Claremont and be a part of the rich tradition of success for Claremont what should they do?
SB: First and foremost, our players are true student athletes.  All of the Claremont Colleges have extremely high academic standards which makes the schools difficult to get into.  We can help get a player into school but they need to be academically qualified. If a player wants to come, they need to be very strong students because the course work is very rigorous, but very rewarding.  A potential student athlete can go online to: http://www.cmsathletics.org/landing/index and research the program.  My contact information is on that website.  Players can contact me and we can discuss the way forward from there. The earlier they contact me the better.

Claremont College 2016 after match with Cal Poly Pomona (Photo Mark Frazier)

Claremont College 2016 after match with Cal Poly Pomona (Photo Mark Frazier)

We want to thank Coach Scott Bracken for his time and insight. This is a busy time for coaches and clubs so we are grateful for the opportunity to learn about their team.  We wish him and this team the best of luck in the playoffs (as we do all the teams). It will be great to see how these various California sides will fair down the line and hopefully showcase the great rugby they are all playing to the rest of the nation.