Rugby: Bears at Their Healthiest Heading to Final Four

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This weekend, the Cal rugby team makes its annual pilgrimage to the holy land of collegiate rugby-the Final Four, which will be held in Virginia Beach, Va. for the second straight year.

The Bears (17-0) will face Army tomorrow at 2 p.m. EDT for the right to face the winner of the other semifinal between Wyoming and Utah Sunday.

While most schools set their sights on just making it to the event, Cal practically owns the place. The Bears have been at 14 of the 21 Final Fours, including 11 in a row, and have never lost.

Not that the thrill is gone, especially since these Bears have the chance to go undefeated, a feat none of the current players has achieved.

"We're really excited, because we know this can be a very special season for us," sophomore Kyle Khasigian said. "The older guys especially are getting us fired up. They want to leave their mark on the program."

Cal coach Jack Clark, as always, wants his team to focus on their performance rather than results, and isn't ready to toot his team's horn just yet.

"The guys are trying to carve out a special place for themselves in our history, and if that motivates us to play our best, then I embrace it," Clark said. "What the other teams have done is win championships, and until we do that, the job's not over."

The final teams standing in the Bears' way are certainly solid, if unspectacular.

The Cadets (13-4), who defeated St. Mary's to reach their fourth Final Four, are known for fitness and a bruising, physical style.

"They're a one-dimensional team, and I don't mean that as a slight," Clark said. "They're well in touch with their identity, which is power rugby, and they do it well."

Wyoming appears to be the clear favorite in the other semifinal, facing a Utah team that made it this far through sheer luck.

The Utes lost to San Diego State in the Elite Eight, but were granted a second lease on tournament life when the beleaguered Aztecs were disqualified for using ineligible players.

"(Wyoming) is the class team in that side of the bracket, and I suspect they will go through" Clark said. "They have excellent team speed, they can win the ball off the line-out, and they're very athletic."

Regardless of their opponents' merits, the Bears have looked mainly inwards in their two weeks of preparation.

"We just got the breakdown on Army (Tuesday)," Khasigian said. "We've mostly been focusing on what we need to improve on from the Ohio State game, especially our defense and scrums. We're dying to get out there and actually play a game. We were ready to play last week."

While the two-week layoff has been mentally taxing, it has allowed injured players to recover, giving Cal its healthiest lineup all season, according to Khasigian.

"The guys are a bit anxious to play, obviously-it's more fun to play rugby than do drills all day," Clark said. "But the fact is (the extra week) has given us the best chance to play our best rugby in the championship, and that's the goal. The sense of satisfaction that comes from doing you very best on the field is like a narcotic, it's truly addictive. It's worth 1000 Ws."

Bears fans will be plenty happy with just two more.


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