For the first time since 2005, the PLNU rugby team competed at the National Small College Rugby Organization’s Pacific Coast Region Championship, but fell short after losing to the University of San Francisco 12-38 in Bend, Oregon.
The team placed third overall, beating Central Oregon Community College 31-29 on the same day, March 28. The Sea Lions were able to qualify for the tournament by going 5-1 in league play—a considerable improvement from their 2-3-1 finish last year.
Senior David Barber, the club’s president who has been with the team since 2011, said this year’s success has been partly due to the new coach, Pueata Auva’a, who was obtained from New Zealand, one of the top countries renowned for rugby on the international level.
“He just has such a vast knowledge of the sport,” said Barber. “And he was a great coach and a great teacher. It was encouraging too; none of our coaches yell at us or get angry if we fail. We just get up and try again.”
The biggest difference in coaching style in comparison to the other coaches is the emphasis on fitness, said sophomore and second-year team member Riley Cannon, one of the top point scorers on the team.
“I’ve always had coaches say ‘Hey, we’re going to run this team into the ground,’ or something like that, but I’ve never had a coach that literally made us run teams into the ground,” said Cannon. “Even when we were up in Bend, [Oregon], we were running circles around these teams. You would see them around half-time huffing and puffing and we were like, ‘This is just the beginning.’
Cannon said the coaches revamped the drills from last year, with the majority of practice time dedicated solely to conditioning.
“There would just be practices which were two hours in total, and an hour and a half of that would be sprints, that was just terrible,” said Cannon.
Karl Sator, an PLNU alumnus and 2005 rugby athlete, connects other rugby alumni to the PLNU Rugby Associates Program—an associated body that connects over 120 former PLNU rugby players through social media and other mediums. This marks his 10th year as the team’s liaison. Sator said the new coaching acquisition, along with the strong foundation of Head Coach Carlos Guerrero, was one of the main reasons for this year’s success.
“The best rugby players and coaches come from New Zealand, so he brings great experience,” said Sator via email. “Pueata Auva’a brings an intensity and passion for the game that challenges each player to better himself…Carlos Guerrero is a great Christian role model and ensures that he builds up rugby players with strong Christian character and work ethic.”
Guerrero began coaching the team one year after the club was conceived in 2001 and held the position until 2007. After that time, Guerrero left to coach the University of San Diego, then subsequently returned to coach PLNU in 2012. Equipped with past coaching experience at PLNU and USD, Guerrero introduced a new preseason plan.
“We kicked off this spring season with a three-hour Navy SEAL fitness challenge that toughened the mindset of the players and enabled them to push their bodies beyond what they thought was capable,” said Guerrero via email. “This paid big dividends helping us win our first league match. Then, once we started winning games, the word got out on campus and several new impact players join[ed] the club this spring semester. All this combined led to our success this year.”
Ostensibly, this wasn’t enough to overcome the vast amount of penalties the Sea Lions committed, which served as a stumbling block against USF in the regional semifinal. This strategy served to qualify PLNU for its first regional tournament in a decade, but Barber said he wants to see the rugby team improve and gain more notoriety and support from PLNU.
“Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” said Barber. “And just being a part of that while it’s happening has been awesome, and I’d like to see that culture grow here at the school as well.”