This weekend is the next round of collegiate playoffs, and the Lady Aggies of UC Davis will not only be playing hosts for DI and DII playoffs, but are competing for a ticket to the next round. UC Davis is not new to rugby championships. The ladies have been to nationals in 2010 and 2011 and are looking to return this year. Last year the men’s Aggies won the D1-AA National Championship. This is a campus with a strong rugby tradition.
The Aggies won’t have an easy road to nationals even as they play hosts to the Elite 8 this weekend which includes an undefeated (11-0) UC-San Diego (UCSD) side, Chico State (a conference rival) and tough Washington State.
We chatted with the two Aggies captains to get caught up on the season so far and to see how this weekend is shaping up. These ladies are experienced rugby players who are both 4th year players and would love nothing more than to finish with being the last team standing.
Caroline Sequeira is the team’s starting hooker and the forward’s captain who came to the Aggies with already 3 years of rugby experience at Bishop O’Dowd High School where she was also the captain and a NorCal Champion.
Her counter part, Justine Joya is also a 4th year player and leads the backs as co-captain and a starting winger on a side that can put up a tremendous amount of points quickly.
While we spoke to these ladies separately you can see how they have some great insight to their team and how their responses almost build on each other. That's chemistry. Below is our conversation with them.
The Rugby Republic: Has your program sought out and/or recruited players to come to Davis for rugby, or because you aren’t a varsity program do you recruit from the student body on campus?
Justine Joya (JJ): We don’t recruit players to come to UC Davis to play rugby. Rather, we recruit current and really new students who have or have not played rugby, or any sports for that matter. We are open to all.
Caroline Sequeria (CS) :We recruit for our team on campus. We recruit throughout the summer at freshman orientations and the first two weeks of school. We always end our recruitment season with a program called “mini camps”, where we teach our new athletes the basics of rugby and let them sample the sport. The key to successful recruitment for women’s rugby is making the new players feel safe joining a new sport and giving the support of a friendly environment.
RR: You ladies have put up some big scores on some of your opponents. What has allowed you to do that? Is it your style of play, the athletes/personnel or just having experience?
CS: Our style of play, fitness and team culture work together to produce a dynamic offense. Since our team is not physically larger we focus on being as fit as we can be and to support our runner in open play. So we end up being the right spots to make plays.
JJ: I think it’s a combination of experience and chemistry. We had a talented young rookie class last year that only developed their skills further in the off season to surprise us and the rest of the team this year. In addition, upperclassmen became more confident. Putting these things together created a team environment in which working hard and playing for each other is our standard. The scores are a reflection of that!
RR: Your seconds or B’s have also had great results. What are your numbers like and how is having the depth or numbers helped you this season?
CS: Our numbers throughout season have averaged between 40-50 per weekend. Having depth on our team has been instrumental to our success. We have had a couple of starting players injured in every game since our second league game, but our play continues to improve because of the commitment of our subs and B-side players.
JJ: Our high numbers are due to our recruitment chairs on the team. They do a great job. And naturally with a large pool of players you get a lot of talent to choose from. However, only 15 can play on the pitch at a time, so that results in an equally skilled B team.
RR: Davis plays weekly vs some excellent clubs and sides. How has the level of competition prepared you for the playoffs?
JJ: I believe we play in a highly competitive league. Stanford, Chico State, and Berkeley all have very distinct styles of play which challenged us in various ways, and I do believe this has prepared us for playoffs.
RR: You may have Chico State in the mix who you have faced in league play. You may also clash with UCSD. What do you know about UCSD and how do you prepare for a team that’s 11-0?
JJ: I know nothing about UCSD but that they, like us and all other Elite 8 teams, are high competitors seeking a National Title. But with the recent news, it seems that we're all competing for a Spring Title. It's not set in stone that we'll be matching up with UCSD, but if we do we'll prepare for them in the same way we've prepared against all teams.
CS: All we really know about UCSD is the scores from their league games and their game against Cal. We may have played them in Fall, but that was so long ago it is irrelevant to this weekend. However, right now we are only focusing on our guaranteed opponent, WSU.
RR: What are keys for the Aggies (regardless of opponent) to win these playoff games?
CS: Simple really. The key for us is to play to our strengths; we may be small, but we are fast and fit.
JJ: Key for us is to maintain our mentality. It's exciting to play in high scoring games, yet that leaves potential for complacency. As long as we stay focus and hungry we'll do well.
RR: Last question. You have some great coaches with post season experience and who’ve been with your program for years. How does that make you girls as players feel going into the next round?
JJ: We're excited for our program as a whole. We are very grateful for our coaches. They put in a lot of time into our program and don't receive a lot of benefits that other coaches receive, yet their support is unwavering. I place full confidence in their role as we proceed farther into playoffs!
CS: Gary Gordon and Kai Kneeval are both excellent coaches that care tremendously for our team. Their support has been key to our success! However, almost more importantly, their trust in letting the women on this team make our own choices on the field has helped create a confidence on our team that translates to the scoreboard.
RR: Any last words?
CS & JJ: Yeah! AGGIE RUGBY! AGGIE PRIDE!
There you have it. The UC Davis Women’s Rugby have the confidence and chemistry to play well in the playoffs, but also to win against some very solid competition. While USA Rugby will not have a Women’s College National Championship game this season (doesn’t look like that will change), the last team standing will be the obvious Champion, and the Aggies have a good shot to be the last ones standing, but they will be tested.
Thank you to the Lady Aggies for their time and help in this story, also a big thank you to the two Captains Caroline and Justine. While we don’t want to pick a team in this competition (as there are 3 great California teams), we do advise Caroline Justine and those in their final season to play these games like they are your last!