Written by Pat Clifton    Wednesday, 05 January 2011 00:00    PDF Print Write e-mail
Utah, UCSB Meet Halfway
Colleges - Men's DI College

 

As many college students are prepping their post-holiday return to campus, UC Santa Barbara and Utah are meeting off it. Saturday they’ll play a pair of games in Mesquite, Nevada about 90 miles from Las Vegas, marking the sixth-consecutive year the programs have met in a preseason clash. The first three took place in Santa Barbara and provided the Utes a chance to get out of the snow. In recent years, they’ve met on neutral ground about six hours from each campus. “It’s kind of annual match. We’ve had a great rivalry, I guess going back to the first time we played them was in the final eight back in 2005,” said UCSB coach Kevin Battle. “They’ve probably progressed a bit faster than us since then. They’ve continued to improve and we slipped up a bit in the last couple years, so we’re looking to get back on a more competitive footing with them.” UCSB’s Academy, a group of players who train alongside the UCSB squad while attending a Santa Barbara community college, has a roster full of talent, evidenced partially by the USA U20s picking up four Academy members during last week’s assembly in Santa Barbara. Just as UCSB hopes to give Utah’s first side a run for their money, the Academy hopes to provide good competition for the Utes’ second 15. “It’s almost like you’re playing two full A-sides, and that’s helpful for us to get experience and helpful for the guys to see what that high level is,” said Utah coach Blake Burdette. “Especially because it’s, with the Academy, guys that have been playing a lot, so it’s good for our young players, and hopefully in return it’s good for them.” Saturday is Utah’s first game of the season, which is a little weird, as 2010 marked the first time in the program’s history that no fall rugby was played. “I thought last year we probably went a little too long, we played 10 games in the fall and 21 games in the spring, so by the time that we got to the end of April the boys were burned out, so we just used the fall as a time to get stronger and get familiar with each other as a new team,” said Burdette.  We started two-a-days and looked pretty good for our first time out yesterday and this morning, so we’ll see. It starts this weekend and hopefully we can put something together and start building our identity for the year.” Before CPL play begins in March, Utah has a full slate of games that include next weekend’s UCLA tournament, a friendly with the newly RSL Utah Warriors and bouts with fellow CPL foes San Diego State, Delaware and Penn State.  For UCSB, a team with CPL aspirations, a good showing Saturday could provide a confidence boost heading into DI play. If UCSB is to make it to the CPL, Battle knows his program has something to prove on the field.  “There’s no question the boys want to get in the CPL, and we’ve kind of identified and mapped out what we need to do, I guess, to put ourselves in contention, and not just get into the CPL, but also be successful once we’re there, and that’s making sure we have a consistent program and work hard,” said the coach.  “I’m not clear on the (CPL's) promotion/relegation…All I know is we’re committed to busting our butts going forward, and proving it on the field. We really feel that if we demonstrate that we can really play some ball on the field, we’ll be put in the league we need to be in to compete the best.” Both Utah and UCSB will be tinkering with their lineups a bit Saturday (Utah is trying to find its best 15 and UCSB is working with some injuries) but both coaches said they plan to have something close to their true A-sides on the pitch against one another. For live updates during the game, you can follow the Utes' Twitter account. For a report aftwerward, you can check right back here at RUGBYMag.com