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After a long winter break, D1A Rugby is ready to resume this weekend in California. No. 8 ranked Central Washington will make the 11-hour bus ride today to play #19 UC-Davis on Friday and #2 St. Mary’s on Saturday. It’s a big weekend for the Wildcats to see where they stand in the hierarchy of collegiate rugby.
After a successful fall 7s season where it went 10-0 against the likes of Cal, Arizona, and UCLA, CWU transitioned to 15s in November before stopping in early December for exams and winter break. With the students coming back to school after the holidays and snow covering the fields in Ellensburg, Wash., the Wildcats have only had one practice to prep for this weekend’s opponents.
According to head coach Todd Thornley, he is bringing 30 players to California, one set of 15 for each game. “Our St. Mary’s group is our best available side. Against UC-Davis, two or three guys are on a comeback trail from injury and they haven’t had a lot of rugby in the fall. Those guys are experienced players playing UC-Davis and our best guys will be against St. Mary’s.”
Even with the limited prep time, Thornley’s expectations for this weekend are high. “Obviously, we want to win both games. I truly believe that’s possible. It’s going to take a couple of special performances to get that done, but for us, it’s going to a great measuring stick to find out where we are at against both teams."
"UC-Davis is a really well-coached side and St. Mary’s is a powerhouse," Thornely continued. "They are going to put us under different pressure and it's going to allow us to assess where we are at and what we will need to do going forward."
Thornley is excited to see a pair of freshmen against UC-Davis on Friday night. “Jake Wendling is starting at center for us. High School All-American last year and had a great 7s experience in the fall. He’s coming on in leaps and bounds and I’m excited to let him loose as he is a big, physical player. A young scrumhalf, Kawika Macy, is playing as well from Hawaii. He's a really good freshman and the two of them should have a good Friday night."
As for Saturday afternoon’s game versus the Gaels, Thornley will look to Alex Mackenzie in the forwards and Cole Zarcone in the backs. “Mackenzie, our sophomore eightman is in great shape and his rugby has vastly improved. In the backs, we will be looking to see Cole Zarcone. He had a great 7s season in the fall and see how that comes along in the 15s game.”
After this weekend, CWU ventures northwest to Seattle to play the Saracens on the 13th then host Lindenwood on January 27th.