Author: Malcolm MacLeod
After a bold showing last season with a 9-1 record, the Occidental men’s rugby team has set the bar high for themselves this season. With three impressive wins in the bag already over Cal State Northridge (CSUN), Arizona State and Pepperdine, the Blackshirts are poised for success and will look to improve even further.
The team boasts strong leadership in the form of seniors Austin Irabor and Max Horten along with Barnaby Audsley (junior).
With a less experienced team this season, the captains expect big things from a strong class of newcomers who bring a different skill set to the table than has been seen in the past.
“We’re going to be physically smaller than a lot of the teams we play this season,” Irabor said. However, the team’s leaders feel confident that the team has meshed well early in the season and have the talent to make a run for the conference championship or even a national title by taking advantage of their superior speed and technicality.
The Blackshirts opened up their pre-season with a set of wins at a tournament in Long Beach that indicated big things to come in the regular season.
They won their season opener at CSUN 15-12, but their biggest win thus far was their 48-7 trouncing of ASU. This past weekend, they faced off against Pepperdine, winning the game 29-19.
And still, a match-up against their bitter rivals Cal Lutheran this weekend — who spoiled their chances at a perfect season last year — one stands above the rest for the Blackshirts this season. “We hate Cal Lu,” Audsley said. “I think we will have the better of them this year. We are ready.”
The Blackshirts lost some of their bigger players after last season, but what they now lack in size they attempt to make up for with speed and skill. The first-year class has contributed a number of athletes in the form of quick and technical players. Dave Miyamoto (first-year) is one such rookie that stands out in the eyes of his teammates.
“Dave is a special player,” Irabor said. “He’s super tough, and very strong.”
Miyamoto plays the position of flanker and is often responsible for making key tackles, as it’s the responsibility of the flanker to get to the ball first.
The Blackshirts are playing a truncated regular season of only five games this year. Their conference is now split up into three divisions, with the best in each division moving on to the playoffs.
This new dynamic puts more pressure on the team to win every game in a big way. In the event of a tie in the standings going into the playoffs, the tie will be broken based upon the team that has scored the most points during the season.
If team morale is any indicator of impending success, this shift in structure should pose no issue to this team.
“[The captains] really know what they’re doing,” Miyamoto said. “They’re always going one-hundred percent, they lead the team very well and are very inspiring. All of it is fun for us. Hitting people is fun, practice is fun and the games are even more fun because that’s when we can really show our competition how tough we are and how hard we work.”
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