Written by the referee Larry Freitas
Saturday arrived after a Friday of heavy rain on the Santa Cruz side of the Monterey Bay, with less of it having fallen on the Monterey Peninsula side. I hardly left the house Friday, so with Saturday’s partly cloudy skies and wind, it was time to drive down to CSUMB for a college women’s match. Fresno State had a good many players on the pitch warming up, but Monterey Bay was suiting up just 15 players, as two were on the touchlines with injury, and with school not having started just yet, a few other players were not on campus for the game. The weather, as far as I’m concerned, was perfect for a rugby match: cool mid-50’s, lots of cloud overhead, and a chilly breeze blowing in from the ocean only a mile and a half away to the west. The pitch was somewhat soggy, though. CSUMB had stopped a practice session late in the afternoon Friday when a heavy downpour hit.
Fresno State got off to a great start, scoring its first try seven minutes into the game, from a tighthead inside Monterey’s 22, which wasn’t converted. Four more converted tries at the Seaside end of the pitch would follow for a 26-0 lead at halftime. Fresno kept the ball alive, not always going to ground in tackles, and passing the ball off before a tackle could be made, so there really wasn’t that much phase play from them overall. So, even with a wet ball, the passing between forwards and backs produced scores, whether from a short or longer distance for the final touch down. UCSC had a few chances to score themselves. Their scrum-half, Sabrina Bacuangan, made one break from a scrum after a dummy to the flyhalf, near the halfway line, and sped off for what I thought would be a try at the Marina end of the pitch, only to be chased down by the cover defense of the Bulldogs some ten meters short, and then give up a penalty for not releasing the ball before any Otters could arrive at the tackle. The Otters also lost one of their props to injury 30 minutes into the game after a high tackle offense by a Fresno player, and therefore a Fresno State sub came in for them at that position.
Fresno’s try-scoring spree would continue after the intermission. Six tries were scored, with three within the first twelve minutes of play. After that things settled down, and Monterey’s defense stiffened. Ten minutes would go by before the Bulldogs scored again, and two more later, the last eleven minutes from no side. Monterey Bay scored a try just minutes before the game ended when one of their forwards reached out and placed the ball over the goal line after being tackled near the touchline, following a period of pressure that produced some of Monterey’s best play of the day.
Regarding penalties, both teams backs were caught offside a few times at rucks, there were at least two calls per team for not releasing the ball in tackles, and a few each for playing the ball on the ground. Both teams did well in listening to my “instructions” at various times during the game.
Fresno State’s Stephanie Rovetti, fly-half, had three tries, as did their flanker Nikki Wheeler, and scrum-half Mariah Holtman had scored two. It was a wet and mud-splattered group of players that walked off the pitch with the final whistle. One other note on the game itself is that despite the soggy pitch and some mud patches (and I did move some away from the worst of those), not one scrum collapsed during the match, and there were quite a number of them.
There was an after-match function at the Round Table in Marina afterwards, and I enjoyed trading stories about the recent RWC with Monterey’s coach Alena Porte, who also was in the UK and Ireland at that time, and also found out that Fresno’s coach played for the Fresno club back at a time when we surely would have played against each other when I was a Santa Cruz Rebel back some thirty years ago.