Parvi sed Lenti is the self-deprecating motto of UCSB’s rugby club. Translation: Small but Slow. But after their showing in the USA Rugby regional tournament, the Gauchos could change it to Parvi sed Rapidi. They made some dazzling, speedy runs against a pair of stout visiting teams and outscored Oregon State, 41-24, and Stanford, 33-17. As a result, UCSB will join Bowling Green, Harvard, and Davenport University (Mich.) in the national final four at Stanford on May 13-14.
It was the second time last weekend that a UCSB team had risen to a momentous occasion. Facing USC’s towering, top-ranked men’s volleyball team on the Trojans’ home floor, the Gauchos pulled out a five-set victory to claim the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) championship. Their resilience was evident in the seesaw scores: 20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, and 16-14. UCSB’s reward? Another match against USC in the NCAA semifinals today (Thu., May 5). It will be televised on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. (Pacific Time). The other semifinalists are Ohio State and Penn State, the host school. The NCAA assured that Saturday’s final (4 p.m., also ESPN2) will not showcase two California teams.
UCSB has fallen short in the national championship match on four occasions, the last a five-set loss to USC in 1988. Lee Nelson, the Gauchos’ associate head coach, was a starting middle blocker in that match. “I still think about it,” said Nelson, a Santa Barbara High grad. “You’re fully invested in it when you go that far. If you win, it’s jubilation. If you lose, it’s devastation.”
The current Gauchos are riding a high tide into Pennsylvania. They had to win three do-or-die matches in the MPSF tournament. “Our guys are best with their backs against the wall,” Nelson said. “They’re doing everything we’ve asked them to do. There’s not much to say now. Just let them play.”
The Gauchos have senior experience at every position: Jeff Menzel and Trey Valbuena (outside hitters), Scott Slaughter (middle blocker), Cullen Irons (opposite), Vince Devany (setter), and Andy McGuire (libero). Menzel, a San Marcos grad, has been on a torrid streak. He had 28 kills against USC, prompting Trojans coach Bill Ferguson to say, “The guy’s a freak, and I mean that in the best sense of the term.”
College rugby does not get on ESPN, make newspaper headlines, or draw crowds of spectators. It is very much a players’ game, and it has a deep tradition at UCSB. A bunch of Gaucho ruggers from the 1960s returned to the campus last weekend to celebrate the induction of Rod Sears into the Recreation Hall of Fame.
“Rugby is fun; it’s enjoyable,” said Sears, a football coach who organized the Gaucho rugby program. He still played the game himself, and the Gauchos would sometimes find their coach bearing down on them for some all-star club.
Sears recalled three times he brought international sides to Santa Barbara. The University of Auckland players shared rooms with the host Gauchos and clobbered them on the pitch. “When Sydney U came in, and we billeted them at sororities,” Sears said, “the game was a lot closer.” New Zealand’s Ponsonby Club, including seven players from the famed All Blacks, also enjoyed UCSB’s hospitality. When the team was departing the morning after the match, a player was missing. “They found him asleep on a bar stool at the Strapp (a Goleta watering hole) at 8 a.m.,” Sears said.
On Sunday evening at Harder Stadium, the Gaucho ruggers of 2011 created memories of their own. Stanford was pounding them by a 17-0 score midway through the second half. “We looked each other in the eyes and decided it was time to man up,” said UCSB captain Mitchell Raisch. They had put in too much time and effort—“Three days a week, we’ve been getting up at 6 a.m. to run, sprint, and push sleds,” Raisch said—to let a so-far-perfect season (9-0) end in humiliation.
With a couple vuvuzuelas tooting in the sparsely populated stands, the Gauchos started running wild. In a seven-minute span, they got tries (touchdowns, worth 5 points) from Jonnie Prickett, Hunter Sapp, John Gallo, and Kyle Cronin. Gallo kicked four conversions (2 points each), the last after a final try by Lee Pinkston. It’s safe to say UCSB won another party that night, as well.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: The Special Olympics are always an inspiring show. On Friday (May 6), more than 150 children with special needs will compete in the third annual School Games track meet at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium. The opening ceremonies will be at 9:20 a.m. … SBCC’s baseball team begins the Southern California Regional playoffs with a best-of-three series against Riverside at Pershing Park (game times are Fri. at 2pm and Sat. at 11am).