BERKELEY - Seventeen freshmen have joined the Golden Bears for 2011-2012 as California seeks to evolve its roster and replace the loss of 15 graduated players following Cal's second straight undefeated season and national collegiate championship.
"These young men are here for a world-class degree first and foremost," said head coach Jack Clark. "But they also want an authentic student-athlete experience and the opportunity to develop into the very best rugby player they can become."
Coach Clark called the connection between the new student-athletes and the program "in many cases generational - young men who have been parented and/or mentored by individuals with deep ties to us."
These new Rugby Bears will be called upon to help fill the void created by the departure of six All-Americans and more than two thirds of the lineup from Cal's triumph in the final last May over Brigham Young. The group of 17 players includes 15 Americans - one from Southern California and the rest from Northern California - and two Canadians. The Bay Area and Sacramento area are well represented, and 14 of the 17 entered the pipeline through Cal Rugby Summer Camps.
"Our annual summer camp for high-school boys continues to be invaluable in identifying athletic potential and character," coach Clark said.
Ten new players join the team as backs, with seven listed as forwards.
"These boys have very similar individual profiles," said Clark. "They are accomplished students, they're multiple-sport high-school athletes and they are recognized as the most valuable contributors to their teams. It is noteworthy how many of them were in leadership positions as captains."
Clark said it will take the newcomers "a while to find their stride as collegiate athletes. Some may break through earlier than others, but they all have the ability to play varsity-level rugby.
"Right now, it is early days for them. They are just finishing their first term as collegiate student-athletes. We have completed our fall transition cycle testing and the analysis shows the freshmen made significant physical progress."
THREE FROM DE LA SALLE, FIVE FROM JESUIT
The De La Salle High School contingent within this year's freshman class is headlined by Lucas Dunne, a 5-8, 175-pound wing who played two years of rugby under coaches Ryan Louis, former Cal players Andy Armstrong and Vic Arvizu, and alumni parent Mike Sagehorn, as well as three years of football for the Spartans under head coach Bob Ladouceur, with CIF Open Division state championships the past two years and a No. 1 national ranking in 2010 from MaxPreps. On the gridiron, Dunne earned MVP honors as a senior running back for the Spartans and ended his final season with
2,034 yards rushing and a single-season school record of 40 touchdowns scored. A 2010 attendee of the Cal Rugby Summer Camp, Dunne opted to attend the University and play rugby despite football scholarship opportunities from other schools.
At 6-1 and 211 pounds, Blake Simons played in the back row for De La Salle and is slated to play flanker as he begins his Cal career. A two-time scholar athlete and honor roll student who played four years of rugby at DLS, Simons was injured after an impressive start to his senior football season for the eventual champion Spartans. His grandfather John Simons earned a master's degree from Cal in political science, an area of study which Blake may also pursue. Simons was a 2010 attendee of Cal Rugby Summer Camp.
Scott Walsh, the third De La Salle graduate joining the Bears, is another back-row player who, at 6-0 and 220 pounds, will move to prop at Cal. His mother, Kathleen, is a Cal alumna and his father, Christopher, competed for the Oregon Track Club as a graduate student under 1972 Olympic coach Bill Bowerman. A 2010 Cal Rugby Summer Camp attendee, Walsh graduated with honors from DLS, receiving the school's Academic Achievement Award and being named a North Coast Section Scholar Athlete. On the gridiron, Walsh was a starting offensive tackle as a senior who was voted first-team all-league and all-East Bay. In his three years playing rugby for De La Salle, Walsh received the Spartan Ironman Award in 2009 and the Most Valuable Forward honor in 2010, and was the forwards captain in 2010 and 2011.
The 2009 and 2011 national high school rugby champion Jesuit High School, coached by John Shorey along with alumni parent and former U.S. international Fred Khasigian, sends five student-athletes to the University as freshmen, starting with Nicklas Boyer, a 6-2, 189-pound scrumhalf. Boyer graduated cum laude from Jesuit, where he also participated in varsity wrestling, and attended Cal Rugby Summer Camp four times. He also played during middle school for the Land Park Motley Rugby Club under the direction of Matt Eason. His mother, Nola, attended Sacramento State, where she played rugby, and his father, Richard, graduated from Cal, where he also played rugby for coach Clark. Boyer's cousin, aunt, grandfather and two great uncles are also Cal graduates, and his brother, Tristan, currently attends the University. Boyer was the MVP of the Gold Division at the 2011 Kickoff Tournament for the Marauders.
Michael Bush enters Cal as a 6-1, 210-pound No. 8/flanker after earning his cum laude academic honors at Jesuit. A member of the National Honors Society, Bush also played varsity football for the Marauders, which gave him the Outstanding Lineman Award in 2008 before he was named team MVP and an all-city linebacker in 2010. He was named the Best Forward for Jesuit rugby in 2009 and became MVP of the Marauders forwards in 2011. At Cal, he may pursue a degree in economics or finance.
Matthew Chipman is a 5-9, 170-pound wing who attended the Cal Rugby Summer Camp for four years. His father, Del, was also a wing who went on from UCLA to make an appearance with the first U.S. National Team in 1976 vs. Australia. Another cum laude student who played three years of football as a running back at Jesuit, Chipman was voted the Marauders' Most Valuable Back in 2007 and Most Valuable Player in 2008, named MVP of the 2011 Kickoff Tournament and received the MVP for the 2011 high-school national championship.
Chris Fry becomes the third member of his family to play rugby at Cal in the past three years, following his brother Eric, who played in the 2011 Rugby World Cup with the U.S. National Team, and brother Jason, a sophomore for the Bears. His other brother, Ryan, played rugby at California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo. Their father, Patrick, played football at UC Davis. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, the youngest Fry is a multi-year Cal Rugby Summer camper who is set to play flanker and No. 8 for the Bears. Also a gridiron player for Jesuit, which named him the Most Valuable Lineman and a captain his senior year, Fry was MVP of the Marauders in the last of his four years on the rugby team.
James Poindexter, the fifth Jesuit graduate among this year's freshmen, is a flyhalf/center who checks in at 6-1 and 190 pounds. A former honor student and co-captain of the Marauders' national champion rugby team, for which he was named Best Back in 2009, Poindexter hails from an athletic family. His father, Whit, was a longtime member of the Sacramento Rugby Club after his football career at Northern Arizona University, and his grandfather Frank Germania was a football player at Notre Dame and with the San Francisco 49ers. A two-year attendee of Cal Rugby Summer Camp, Poindexter may declare English as his major.
Also from the Sacramento area is Nick Salaber, a 6-1, 194-pound flanker from Dixon High School who attended Cal Rugby Summer Camp from 2007-2010. His grandfather Robert Sr. and father, Robert Jr., also attended the University, and his father played rugby for the Bears under coach Clark.
Rob was also one of Salaber's coaches on the Dixon rugby team, on which Nick was a captain for three seasons, earning MVP honors in 2011. On the gridiron, Salaber also served as a captain and received first-team all-league honors as a two-way lineman his senior year.
BOTH SIDES OF THE BAY
Coming to Cal from Castlemont High School in Oakland, where he was an honor student, is Eakalafi Okusi, a versatile inside back at 6-0 and 209 pounds. Okusi is one of nine children in his family, which includes two brothers, Tevita and Opeti, on the San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club.
On the gridiron for Castlemont, Okusi was a first-team all-city selection in 2010 as a quarterback. He also played one year of varsity basketball for the Knights. His rugby experience comes from the U-19 Hayward Griffins, for whom he was a co-captain in both 2010, when they won the Northern California championship, repeating as champs in 2011 under former Cal and U.S. National Team player Blane Warhurst, a former teammate of Clark, and Mose Timoteo, another former USA Eagle.
Jesse Milne is a 6-1, 190-pound back who played three years of rugby for Piedmont High School under coaches John Cullom, son of Cal Hall of Fame footballer and rugger Jim "Truck" Cullom, a longtime assistant to the legendary Miles "Doc" Hudson, and Ken Meyersieck, the starting scrumhalf in Cal's 1980 and '81 national championship victories. An attendee of the Cal Rugby Summer Camp in 2009 and '10, Milne was also a two-way starter on Peidmont's football team as a sophomore and junior before transferring to Suffield Academy in Connecticut, where he led his league in tackles his junior season. Milne finished his high-school studies at Tilden Prep in Albany, Calif. His mother, Sarah, is a Cal alumna and his father, Keith, was a high-school All-American in water polo before attending Stanford.
From Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco comes Nickolas Grass, a 6-5, 222-pound lock who may pursue a degree in chemical engineering at Cal. His brother, Pat, played prop at Saint Mary's and center/fullback for San Francisco Golden Gate. Nickolas also played for the SFGG U-19s under coach Tony Wells from 2007-2011, culminating with the 2011 Northern California Club Championship. A 2010 Cal Rugby Summer Camp attendee, Grass was the leading try-scorer for his team as a junior and senior, and the 2011 U-19 MVP at SFGG. He also excelled on the football field, starting as a tight end and defensive end at Sacred Heart, with an all-city honor from SanFranPreps in 2010.
Another Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory graduate to join the team is Harry Libarle, who also played for the SFGG U-19s from 2008-2011. A 6-0, 215-pound center who graduated with honors, Libarle attended the Cal Rugby Summer Camp in 2010. He played lacrosse and football at Sacred Heart as well, starting as a sophomore at fullback and linebacker as the Fightin' Irish won the 2009 Central Coast championship. Libarle's father, Marc, was a rower at Boston University and his mother, Barbara Lane, attended Stanford. Harry's uncle Dan Libarle played football at Oregon.
From south of the city in San Carlos comes Christian Collins, a 6-1, 190-pound flanker who played four years with the Peninsula Green Rugby Club under coach Robert Benson and captained the team in 2010-2011. A graduate of Carlmont High School, Collins is a former Cal Rugby Summer Camp attendee who may pursue anthropology studies at the University, where both his parents, an uncle and three aunts also attended. His father, Jim, was a Cal rugby player and member of the Old Blues Rugby Club.
The southernmost Californian among the incoming class is Michael Melnick, a 6-1, 178-pound wing who attended St. Francis High School in La Canada, where he earned Scholar Role honors. Another former Cal Rugby Summer Camp attendee, Melnick scored 24 tries during his senior season with the L.A.
Cougars Rugby Club under coaches Chip Howard and Mike Greig. On the gridiron for St. Francis, Melnick was a two-way starter (LB and RB) his final two seasons, and was recognized as a first-team all-league selection as a junior linebacker.
Andrew Battaglia is a 5-10, 180-pound player from Ontario, Canada, where he attended St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School. A four-year honor student and president of the student body, Battaglia was a senior captain of his 15s team and junior captain of his 7s team, with MVP honors in both. A wing and fullback in high school, Battaglia brings versatility that should come in handy for Cal. His father, Mike, played high-school rugby for the Churchill Bulldogs and Battaglia has also joined his younger brother, Anthony, on the Aurora Barbarians Rugby Club. Named "Best and Fairest" at the 2010 Cal Rugby Summer Camp, Battaglia competed in September for Canada's U-18 Sevens team in the Youth Commonwealth Games on the Isle of Man.
Spencer Morris is a 6-1, 178-pound center from the Collingwood School in West Vancouver, where he was an AP Scholar. He began playing rugby in Kindergarten with the Capilano Rugby Club, then played for Collingwood, which won the 2011 British Columbia Provincial championship, in Middle School through High School, co-captaining the team. Morris, who also played soccer for Collingwood, played representative ice hockey for his province and competed for the B.C. alpine ski team, earning a fifth-place finish at the 2009 Junior National Championships in the super combined event. His father, Denis, played house rugby for St. Johns College at Cambridge University. Morris may pursue economics or business studies at the University.
"We are committed to making a match between prospect and university. Each of the young men in this class is a good match with our University, our environment, our academic profile and our rugby program," concluded Clark.
The 130th season of Cal rugby kicks off in January.