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The Santa Barbara Rugby Academy is no longer just UCSB’s B-side. Coached by the same staff and run through the same rigorous training sessions as the Gauchos, Santa Barbara City College now has a full-fledged team playing in Southern California‘s DII league, and it’s pretty darned good.

“We’ve expanded. We have 28 guys as part of the team. About 24 of those guys are guys that we went out and recruited,” said SBCC and UCSB coach Kevin Battle. “And right now we have four, and that number’s growing, in terms of kids who never played rugby who are going to school at Santa Barbara City College and got interested once they were aware that we had a team.”

Last season, members of the Academy not enrolled at UCSB played with the then DI men’s club Santa Barbara Grunions. SBCC also entered a team in the Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifier bracket in Las Vegas. Perhaps that experience whetted the appetite of the Academy to play more college competition.

“We felt it was best that the kids had the opportunity to play with and against their peers and then also for them to play for something so they really were vying for an opportunity for a championship,” Battle said.

SBCC is 2-0-1 in Southern California league play, having beaten Cal State Fullerton and beaten and tied Cal State Long Beach. SoCal is chocked full of competitive teams, so SBCC is no shoe-in for a championship, but it definitely figures to be in the discussion.  

The squad is bolstered by some young, experienced talent, like Morgan Frothingham, Sage Winn, Ollie Cregg and Matt Weber.

Frothingham, captain and No. 8, grew up near Aspen, played for the Gentlemen of Aspen and spent a year playing in New Zealand after high school. Winn started at prop for Maryland last year in the Terps’ Atlantic Coast Rugby League title run and Cregg is a former USA U20 wing. Weber played high school ball for the LA Cougars.

“He’s a very, very exciting prospect out on the outside,” said Battle of Weber. “We have a lot of really good, good players that will be coming through, and you’ll hear their names a little bit more often.”

SBCC’s shortcoming, though, is its youth.

“We’re really lacking any senior leadership, which is pretty apparent,” said Battle. “As you get deeper into the season, it’s a bunch of young players, all freshmen and sophomores with a couple of juniors who are in there, who are lacking that senior leadership that you would find with a traditional four-year school.”

Sierra College of Northern California carried the banner for the junior colleges all the way to the DII National semifinals a year ago. SBCC is still several wins away from matching that feat, but practicing five days a week with the 2011 DI-AA National runner-up Gauchos will only help.

“The boys, they live together, they train together. They’ve been together since September, the academy guys as well as the UC guys. There’s certainly a sibling rivalry amongst the groups. You’ve got big brother and little brother and they’re always trying to outdo each other, and that makes for some pretty exciting scrimmages at practice,” said Battle.

“With us fielding four teams, an A and a B for both City College and UCSB, we’ve got lots of opportunities for live scrimmages and backs attacks and backs defense, and we finish off each training with a good 15 minutes of going head-to-head. To be honest, that’s some of the most exciting rugby I get to watch.”

If the Vaqueros continue to win in Southern California, they could be a team to look out for come tourney time.