The Golden Bears enter Friday's 24-team quest to win the USA Rugby College 7s Championships in College Station, Texas, as the top seed in Pool B, where No. 2 California (19-3) is joined by Arkansas State, NC State and Middlebury for opening action.
The Bears begin with Middlebury at 9:20 CT/8:20 PT a.m. followed by NC State at 1 CT/12 PT p.m. and Arkansas State at 5 CT/4 PT p.m. After teams have played their three pool matches on Friday, each pool winner and two best runners-up advance to Saturday's quarterfinals, where they will battle for spots in the semifinals and final, which kicks off at 5:30 CT/4:30 p.m. PT.
Cal heads into the weekend having won three tournaments and reached the semifinals in the fourth event it entered this fall, including their most recent title at the PAC Sevens. With a season winning percentage of .863 that keeps the team trending upward on an all-time 7s record of 35-9 (.795), Cal has shown continual improve as a 7s program.
But the Bears are a young team, half of which are underclassmen, and will have some notable injury absences as they compete against a field at the USAR National College 7s replete with conference winners and quality at-large teams.
The Bears' draw for Friday features the accomplished Arkansas State, which finished third at the 2011 USAR 7s championships. The Red Wolves drew an at-large bid to this tournament for its performance at the South Independent Rugby 7s, where it lost a 24-19 last-minute final to Life's Running Eagles.
The Wolfpack from NC State advanced to the final of the Atlantic Coast 7s on its way to an at-large berth in the tournament, while Middlebury College received an at-large bid on a body of work that included second place at the East Coast Conference championship.
Friday will be the first-ever meetings for Cal against their pool opponents in the seven-a-side, Olympic code of the game.
Other top seeds in the tournament include Life University, the 2011 USAR College 7s champion that returns atop Pool A. Central Washington, the 2011 runner-up, headlines Pool C. Two-time College Rugby Championships 7s winner Dartmouth College is the Pool D favorite. Event host and SEC champion Texas A&M features in Pool E and San Diego State, which won the California 7s, is the high seed in Pool F.
Senior Seamus Kelly, captain for Cal as well as the skipper for the 2012 College All-Americans, will lead the Bears into the tournament as the Bears' all-time leader in 7s with 30 appearances in eight career tournaments with 28 tries scored. Other upperclassmen on the travel roster include all-time top-10 7s performers like 2012 7s All-American Jake Anderson (13 tries in six career tournaments), a junior; senior Anthony Lombardo (12 tries in six tournaments); and senior Andre Coquillard (eight tries in five tournaments). Senior Jared Braun has five career tries in 7s but has played only one tournament this season, and junior Carl Hendrickson will be heading to his third career tournament.
After that, the Cal team gets younger in a hurry, with an underclassmen-heavy rotation that has been forced to mature in the midst of competition. Sophomores Andrew Battaglia, Nicklas Boyer, Michael Bush and Eakalafi Okusi have all played significant minutes, as have freshmen Patrick Barrientes, Charles Guiraud and Russell Webb. Webb has been particularly valuable as a scrumhalf and is already the team's all-time conversion kicker with 30 makes in four tournaments played.
The statuses of experienced 7s campaigners Paul Bosco, a junior, and senior Josh Tucker, both coming back from injury, are not yet known as of this release.
What is known is that front-line players like 7s All-American Brad Harrington, CRC 7s standout Ahmed Chehade and All-American Brendan Daly are out with their injuries, and stalwart All-America forward Danny Barrett is ruled out by a team suspension.
This will be the second-to-last 7s tournament of the academic year for the Bears, who will finish the year in June 2013 with their fourth straight trip to the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s on NBC.
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