After a stellar undefeated regular season, the Berkeley Rhinos high school rugby club defeated Sacramento’s Kennedy High School in the first round of the Norcal playoffs on Saturday, 33-31.
The Rhinos entered the playoffs ranked third, and had home field advantage for the game at Gilman Sports Fields.
The Rhinos’ high-powered offense proved to be too much for the Cougars’ defense, scoring three tries within the first 25 minutes of the game. Seniors Alex Glover and Efe Ustenci were on a mission to make their presence felt and were responsible for the first three scores for the Rhinos.
Glover, who plays number eight for the Rhinos, is the league’s leading scorer and he dominated the Cougars much as he has done with opponents throughout the course of this season. The Saint Mary’s senior finished the game with two scores and was relentless with his efforts on defense. Glover, who will be playing rugby for Humboldt State next year, said both his teammates and he wanted to get off to a good start.
“On offense we’re fast and athletic and that tends to be a problem for opposing defenses,” said Glover. “Then you add our tough and physical defense it makes us really hard to beat.”
Glover isn’t alone when it comes to believing they’re hard to beat when the team is firing on all cylinders. Rhinos Head Coach Keir Paasch feels that if his team plays to the best of their ability the odds are always in the Rhinos favor.
“This is only the second time we’ve made it to the playoffs since I’ve been a coach,” said Paasch. “So I think it’s safe to say this is one of the best teams we’ve had in my tenure as coach.”
Paasch, who is now in his 13th season coaching the team, says that he hopes the Rhinos success can help add to the rich history of Northern California rugby. Paasch described Northern California as a “hotbed” for rugby, and he would like the Rhinos to join the list of other dominant Bay Area clubs. Cal’s men’s rugby team has won a total of 26 national championships, most recently in the 2015 season.
“With Cal being national champs, and then you mention the women’s club team, The Berkeley All Blues, and that’s a lot of history,” said Paasch. “Hopefully we can continue to get better like we did this year and work our way to the kind of level of consistent dominance that those teams have displayed.”
Players and coaches feel that the brotherhood the Rhinos have developed is their biggest reason for success this season. Sophomore scrum-half Aidan Gabriel says the sense of camaraderie that has blossomed between players is something he is extremely proud of.
“Seeing my teammates work hard together and fight throughout games is a great feeling,” said Gabriel. “We’ve grown from just teammates to family, and you can see that in the way we go hard for each other on the field.”
In the second round, the Rhinos face another team of Cougars — the Sacramento Cougars Rugby Club. Assistant Coach Nate Dahl says the team will stick to the basics and continue to do the things that got them to this point.
“We will have another strong week of practice,” said Dahl. “We will continue to use our great continuity on offense and beat bigger and stronger teams with our mobility.”
You can catch the Rhinos in action this Saturday against the Sacramento Cougars Rugby Club in Fair Oaks at Will Rogers Middle School at 10 a.m.
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