The San Diego State University (SDSU) Aztecs are on the attack as they are not backing down from anyone. The Aztecs Rugby program has broken into the DI A Top 10 now, and that is not an easy feat considering the conference they play in (California Conferences). This is a conference that features St. Mary’s, Cal Poly, Santa Clara, UC Santa Barbara in addition to the Aztecs. Of the five teams in this conference four are in the DI A Top 20.
The warring Aztecs defeated Cal Poly (#9 at the time) to move into the Top 10. The Aztecs are not a Cinderella story, but a nationally established program that competes each season with the goal of nationals.
The Aztecs are getting close to warping up their regular season and fighting for a playoff spot so we wanted to catch up with them and get an insight into this excellent run they are currently on. Below is our interview with the SDSU Aztecs.
The Rugby Republic (RR): The Aztecs, with the win over #9 Cal Poly are now a top 10 side nationally, how does that help you guys going forward?
SDSU Aztecs: We think being a top 10 side in the country has showed how far the program has come in the last couple years. This achievement is a testament to the hard work our coaches and leaders have done in putting this team together. This achievement will help us with recruiting. Rugby is not a varsity sport at SDSU, yet this achievement proves to incoming recruits that we can still compete with some of the best schools in the nation.
RR: You play in what has to be one of if not the toughest conferences in the county that this year has had 4 of its 5 teams in the top 20. How does that hurt or help the Aztecs?
SDSU Aztecs: Playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country definitely helps us out. Every conference game is a battle and helps us stay focused during our season. The boys learned very quickly how serious conference games are and how no matter where the opponent is ranked we have to take them seriously. Playing teams like St. Mary’s and Cal Poly helps prepare us for the rigors of playoffs and shows us flaws in our team that we may not have known of otherwise.
RR: How can the fact that your last two games against top 20 teams have been won late and by close margins help the boys in the playoffs?
SDSU Aztecs: Our last couple games against Santa Clara and Cal Poly have been extremely beneficial to our boy’s development. These results show how we have grown as a team. A year or two ago, we would have been happy with a good showing even if we did not get the result that we wanted. Moreover, it’s a testament to how the team has grown this year in our ability to stay focused throughout the whole 80 minutes of our games, and finish these games strong.
RR: How have you guys gotten to this point? Coaching, commitment, structure, discipline, great athletes, tradition of winning/attitude, etc?
SDSU Aztecs: You have to credit our coaches Alex Lichtig and Joe Fontana for this improvement! Our coaches went to state around a decade ago and had great success when they played there. Since they got here 3 years ago, they have worked tirelessly to develop a close-knit culture on and off the field within the team, which has been key to our success.
RR: Playing for a top 20 program like SDSU isn't recreational; it's playing for a program. Can you run us through what your training schedule is like during the season? How many times a week do you practice, how many film, how many days in the gym (and do you work with strength & conducting coach) organized team runs?
SDSU Aztecs: During the season we practice three times a week. Our practices last two hours each session. We work out with a strength and conditioning coach and lift three days a week in pairs or small groups. Normally after our game on the weekend, we have a pool session to help rehab us for the week ahead.
RR: What's been the biggest impact this season the system and structure of you game plans or the players/athletes?
SDSU Aztecs: I think the biggest impact this season has been the group of players we have on our team. We don’t have too many “stars” on our team; however, we have a really solid roster of quality players that compliment each other well.
RR: What's been the biggest challenge so far this year, and yet how are you all drawing off that.
SDSU Aztecs: The biggest challenge this year has been getting to that next caliber of play. Our goal as a team is to qualify for the national championship. That is why we play games against St. Mary’s and BYU to help get us to that next level.
RR: How much alumni support does SDSU get and how has that helped in the season?
SDSU Aztecs: We receive large amounts of alumni support. SDSU has had a rugby club since 1958, and with those years come numerous alumni who have had great experiences playing rugby for SDSU and contribute generously to make sure that we have as good a time playing rugby here as they did. Without their (alumni) support we would not be able to travel to some of our playoff games; moreover, they are crucial to our success as a rugby team.
RR: Who are some of the players who've had the biggest impact on your season (not just on the pitch but off as well)? How has each made an impact?
SDSU Aztecs: There are a couple players who have stood out with their success on the field. Austin Switzer (a freshman scrumhalf) has taken a huge leadership role in the club both on and when he got injured, off the field. His leadership skills have greatly increased and helped spearhead this effort by being both the captain and the president of the club. Adahir Aguilera as Prop has stepped up in a big leadership role while Switzer has been injured. Still in his only third year of rugby, Aguilera has worked extremely hard this year and the results are obvious due to his incredible play and leadership on the field. Ari Flink (freshman winger) has really improved in finishing on the field this year. He leads the team in tries this year and is good at making big runs in clutch situations during the game. An absolute crucial addition this year has been Johnny Abdulahad, Gil Covey, and Ryan Walls, these three guys transferred to SDSU this year and have greatly improved the set piece and open field play. Finally, Nick Lupian has probably been the most improved player this year as he moved from wing to outside center. His defense has been really stout and has been successful at finding half gaps in the defense resulting in go forward ball.
RR: As of now you still have two big games left, how are you keeping focus on those and not looking ahead to playoffs?
SDSU Aztecs: We play BYU this upcoming Tuesday and it will be one of the biggest tests of most of the boys careers. It is an amazing opportunity to test their skills against some of the best in the U.S, and this game will help display some flaws that we can clean up just in time for playoffs.
The Aztecs will have their biggest test of the year this week verse BYU and we wish the boys luck in that match. We hope the Aztecs and all the other California Collegiate clubs continue to move towards nationals and keep growing the game. You can follow the Aztecs progress on line SDSU Rugby or social media @AZTEC_RUGBY as well as facebook. If you are a high school player and are interested in possibly joining the Aztecs you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.