Clark Wants Team Focused On Itself To Begin 2002 Campaign

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Under the guidance of coach Jack Clark, Cal rugby has become nearly synonymous with championships, but Clark insists the Bears' focus is elsewhere in 2002.

"The word 'championship' hasn't been mentioned (in meetings and practices this year)," the former US national team coach says. "We're set up to be consumed with our own performance, and we know that results will follow."

Clark realizes his insistence that team goals are based on level of performance rather than results sounds like coach speak, but the Bears have enjoyed such Dream Team-like domination of college rugby that it makes sense to turn within.

A 16-1 season and an 11th consecutive national championship in 2001 further cemented Cal's unchallenged status as the NCAA's rugby superpower, which has won 18 of the last 22 titles.

Equally indicative of this superiority were the Bears' 86-11 demolition of Penn State in the title game and Stanford's unprecedented forfeit of its regular-season match against Cal, when Cardinal players and coaches made national headlines by refusing to play, citing fear of bodily harm.

Realistically, the Bears will be challenged by two teams on their schedule, both of which are Canadian-traditional foe British Columbia and powerhouse Victoria will be favorites when they face Cal-but they will be expected not to just win, but play impressively against overmatched opponents like Cal State Humboldt and St. Mary's.

"At this point, we have to work on every aspect of the game just to play solid rugby against Humboldt (the season-opener)," Clark said. "We're conducting a technical audit of everything we did last season and finding what needs improvement. We should be able to play several styles well this year-both tight and physical and a wide-open 'champagne' style based on speed and skill."

This year's squad, featuring 25 returning letter-winners, five All-Americans and a ten-man recruiting class expected to make an immediate impact, should have no difficulty replacing the six graduated starters, including star Shaun Paga, but there is one loss that will stay with the Bears through the season and beyond.

Senior Dominic Cooke was left paralyzed from the waist down by a late-December car accident, and Clark says Cooke's absence has hit the team hard both on the field and off.

"The team is like a brotherhood, and Dominic was easily one of the most respected guys on the team," Clark said. "We're all hoping for a miracle and a recovery. He's a real achiever, he leads a very full life, and he is up for this challenge."

Cooke played the critical scrumhalf position, which is responsible for much of the play-making and ball-distribution duties. Senior Eric Andersen will be expected to shoulder more of the load in Cooke's absence. Clark said he expects scrumhalf and hooker, another skill position where Cal has to replace departed senior Chris Draper, to be areas of concern this season.

Despite the question marks, Clark has every reason to be optimistic about his team.

In addition to the returning All-Americans-Mike MacDonald, Chris Miller, Kort Schubert, Alex Houser and Matt Sherman-the Bears will be able to count on former football standout Jacob Waasdorp, San Diego State transfer Josh Downs, and a group of freshmen that includes Jake Stanfield, Andrew Lindsey and Rob Weedin, all of whom are expected to make a big impact in 2002.

"I'm very excited about this team, just like every year," he said. "We have a very talented group of players and great chemistry. There are a lot of mates on this team."


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