Fresno State men’s rugby club makes program history
Nathan Eldridge runs the ball down the field in the game against Sacramento State for the Pacific Western Conference League Championship game at the Fresno State Kinesiology field. (Estela Anahi Jaramillo/ The Collegian)
For the first time in program history, the Fresno State Men’s Rugby club won the Pacific Western Conference League Championship against Sacramento State.
With the home-field advantage at the Fresno State Kinesiology field, the Bulldogs swept the Hornets, 36-0, in the first championship game Fresno State has hosted since joining the conference in 2013.
“Today’s game didn’t go our way in a lot of ways, but they never gave up and they held them to zero which is saying a lot,” said head coach Patrick Quan.
The athletes were presented with a trophy and medals for their win, and senior Joshua Jacobson was named Most Valuable Player of the game.
Jacobson noted that at the beginning of the game, things didn’t go well for the Bulldogs, but they were able to complete a quick turnaround and succeed.
“I felt we needed to put in a little bit of effort. Right before the game, we had some mix around of guys but we made it through it. You know most of our guys can play all different positions, so it really helps us out when you learn every position you play it so you can just switch around guys, and it doesn’t affect our game too much,” he said.
After seven years of working with the rugby team, Quan has won his first championship title.
“It was great. We have been for seven years, you know. We kind of started out and we had a long way to go. But we are building, hopefully at this point, and we’re really thrilled,” said Quan.
He noted that moving this far had always been the plan for the team, and even through the struggles of the pandemic and practicing on an unkept field last semester, the rugby team has been able to rise up to the championship game.
The strength and size of the Bulldogs was in their favor this season, Quan highlighted that even mentally, the team has gained strength through the obstacles it’s faced.
“We were just concerned that, you know, something would change. Everything just seemed like it was shifting. But we’re thankful that this season happened. And we’re really proud of the players,” he said. “We have been through a lot as a team. And it’s really made us stronger. I’m really proud of the players. And, you know, they are basically changing the way we program at Fresno State.”
Fresno State junior Carlos Banuelos highlighted how important the championship win was for the rugby club. With the club being only nine years old, one of the youngest in the league, and winning the championship after coming close before COVID was amazing, Banuelos said.
“We’ve all worked hard for the past nine months. Everybody’s been committed hard and when coming up every practice, they can go into class doing their work. Whooping grinder for this. It’s finally got it,” he said.
Playing in his ninth year of rugby, Banuelos said how exciting it is to win a championship for Fresno State since growing up in the Valley there wasn’t anything like what he experienced in college.
“It’s amazing. We had stuff in high school in the valley, but there’s nothing quite like this. Being as committed as this,” he said.
He shared the struggle of switching to a new practice field, and other things that might’ve set the team back, but they remained resilient through it all and have landed at winning the championship, especially with a home-field advantage.
“Great, great that we got to host with nobody who was tired enough to stay in hotels. Everyone got to stay at their own house. We’re well-rested. We didn’t have to play Friday. It was great to have the home field advantage,” Banuelos said.
Jacobson said how well-deserved it felt for his team to win the championship trophy and home receiving the MVP title for the game. He highlighted the team’s hard work this season, and seeing the progress some of the athletes have built in the four years they have been with the club team.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up and started playing in college. But as soon as I fell into the community, it was really heartwarming. And I think this is what we deserved,” he said.
After working tirelessly for multiple days a week, and at undesirable hours, since most of the athletes came after work or school, Jacobson said the team deserved the win.
Jacobson said the rugby club coaches don’t get paid to work with the athletes, so their dedication to showing up after their day jobs to teach the team more about the sport meant a lot.
“So I want to thank them, my coaches come now teaching us and sticking with us and even when we won’t be in the best place, and even though we had attitude, they kept with us,” he said. “My fellow teammates, I’m honored to have such great friends and brothers that I made on this team, and I really feel blessed about it.”
The conference is a Division 1 AA conference that competes for the USA Rugby National Collegiate Competition in the 15’s. Since Fresno State qualified along with Sacramento State, it heads to Washington to compete in the West Coast Regional Competition to determine if they move on to Nationals at the end of April.
“Everyone knows their job. Everyone’s gonna step up. We all know what we need to do. It’s just a matter of doing it,” Banuelos said.
Quan noted that the main thing the team needs to do is win a national championship, which they are now three games away from. The team leaves for Seattle in two weeks where it will play Sacramento State, UCSD and Western Washington. The winner of those games will move on to the national finals in Texas.
“That’s a very, very good rugby team with some wonderful athletes, and they just need to do what they’ve always done. They could win it all,” Quan said.