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The Southern California DI club season starts this weekend, and it’s going to be a tough season for all teams. The competition has, if anything, become tougher since the two bottom teams from 2011, Huntington Beach and Santa Barbara, moved to DII, and no one replaced them.

That leaves six teams in a ten-game season, and only one of those teams lost more than they won (on the field) in 2011.

That team is Back Bay, and they were given a rather harsh lesson in running rugby on Saturday, losing 79-10 to a very zippy St. Mary’s College team. The Sharks still have reason to be optimistic. They’ve added some players from various corners, including Charles Biddulph, a top player from the New South Wales suburban leagues, as well as products from their youth teams.

But to move up the league standings they, have some mountains to climb.

Los Angeles was 9-5 in 2011, and brings back a tough-minded group of players, especially up front.

Las Vegas looks to return to the heights of 2009-2010, when they were one of the top two clubs in the country. Only a suspension last season halted them, and with new leadership and a new coach, don’t expect that kind of thing to happen again.

Expo Mejia will run the team and Eric Fry is expected to provide leadership on the field at a club which, remember, won the 2010 DI title and were finalists in 2009. Their lineup is different, but not overwhelmingly so.

Belmont Shore, which lost to Las Vegas in the 2010 national final, returns with a new coaching staff. Ray Egan and RUGBYMag.com columnist Gavin Hickie, with club president James Walker, are running a club that is certainly younger than it has been in the past. They’ve brought in a few recruits, notably All American hooker Zach Fenoglio, but they are mostly domestic recruits, and often talent from Belmont Shore’s youth program.

OMBAC came out of last weekend’s loss to SFGG feeling pretty good. New coach Eugene Mountjoy said he saw his players showing belief in his offensive approach, and they scored several good tries.

“We are only going to get better when our decisions get better in those 50/50 situations,” Mountjoy said. “[We have a ] lot to work on in defense as always, it is about attitude first, so we need to be clinical on first-time tackling.”

At Santa Monica, coach Doug Bratcher is hoping he won’t be going through a flyhalf a week as he did last year. While points machine David Hughes is taking a break from playing, the team’s depth is outstanding. They will field a DI squad, DIII, and social DIV team. Bolstered by local youth programs, including the successful ICEF inner-city program, and bringing the old boys back with the DIV program, Santa Monica is building something.

But that doesn’t mean they will win now. The now players include a veteran group that’s been in the wars for a while, bolstered by likes of scrumhalf Pierce Cooley, a Jesuit and UCLA product who has impressed.

No one expects Las Vegas to falter, and no one expects Belmont Shore to falter. Santa Monica has to have better luck with injuries this year, and Los Angeles, OMBAC and Back Bay are all better than last year.

The math, then, doesn’t add up. Belmont Shore, OMBAC, Santa Monica, and LA won 42 and lost 14 in 2011 league play (a .750 winning percentage). But Las Vegas went 5-8 because of four forfeits and a loss of momentum following those forfeits. That won’t happen again, so someone is going to be a better team, and still lose more games.


2012 SoCal DI Club Schedule


SoCal

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21-Jan BELMONT SHORE BACK BAY

OMBAC SANTA MONICA

LOS ANGELES LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS
28-Jan OMBAC BACK BAY

LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS SANTA MONICA

BELMONT SHORE LOS ANGELES



4-Feb BACK BAY LOS ANGELES

SANTA MONICA BELMONT SHORE

LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS OMBAC



18-Feb LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS BACK BAY

LOS ANGELES SANTA MONICA

OMBAC BELMONT SHORE



25-Feb BACK BAY SANTA MONICA

OMBAC LOS ANGELES

BELMONT SHORE LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS



3-Mar LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS LOS ANGELES

BACK BAY BELMONT SHORE

SANTA MONICA OMBAC



17-Mar LOS ANGELES BELMONT SHORE

SANTA MONICA LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS

BACK BAY OMBAC



24-Mar LOS ANGELES BACK BAY

BELMONT SHORE SANTA MONICA

OMBAC LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS



31-Mar SANTA MONICA BACK BAY

LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS BELMONT SHORE

LOS ANGELES OMBAC



14-Apr SANTA MONICA LOS ANGELES

BACK BAY LAS VEGAS BLACKJACKS

BELMONT SHORE OMBAC