Photo courtesy USA Rugby / Brian Achenbach / KLCFotos
Seattle has many things going for it in terms of staff, players and resources, but it’s the quality and quantity of games that stratifies the DI club landscape. As American teams stretched their league seasons across the fall and spring, the Saracens’ DII and Premier sides played 38 matches (mostly) in the British Columbia Rugby Union.
“I can’t believe we’ve played that many,” Seattle coach Tim Zern confessed. “Our DII team won the championship – which is fantastic – and we lost in the semifinals at the Premier level. It was a long, grueling season, but players are rested and pushing each other for those very special roster spots to regionals.”
As for the quality of matches, Seattle couldn’t be more pleased. Many Canadian internationals are active in the BC Premier, and the competition north of the border is very demanding.
“The teams that we compete against, so many of them have such different profiles of athletes and attacking strategies,” Zern explained. “We’ll play teams that have so much pace it’s ridiculous. Next week, a team will have a tight five of 5’6”, 215 lb. players – all of them. It’s been a fantastic lesson for us. There are so many opportunities for players to be put under pressure against quality opposition. We learn from successes and mistakes.”
The two Victoria sides have kept Seattle acquainted with defeat, and that’s important come playoff time. Many teams enter the post-season having dominated their local competition with little idea of how their defense responds to concerted pressure. It’s a mental exercise as well, knowing how to perform in adverse circumstances.
“We had strategies in place to beat both of those teams, but we haven’t figured it out yet,” Zern said. “When you’re in the middle of the battle, sometimes it’s difficult to take a step back and have vision or the ability to realize what’s not working.”
The team did get a boost as an influx of recent college graduates and veterans who’ve relocated to Seattle lifted the squad. Kristine Sommer continues to lead from the pack, and when she’s not on the pitch, the flyhalf is the de facto captain.
“No one really shines; we’re a team of hard-working players,” Zern said. “We have a few internationals and a few who deserve a good shot at the international level.”
While disappointed to fall a week short of the BC Premier final, the team is grateful for the extra time to heal. Last week’s practices were charged and the team has refocused its goals around defending its USA Rugby DI national championship.
“Honestly, I think we separate the two competitions,” Zern explained the back-to-back-seasons mentality. “They’re so different, and we have expectations for both. Everyone knows the goal for USA.”
And the field knows what to expect from Seattle. Although the Saracens play the majority of its year north of the border, last year’s title-winning campaign has fixated the nation’s attention.
“It’s an interesting situation,” Zern said of Seattle’s online presence online. “No one expected the rapidity of success we’ve had. We just play a lot of rugby games and work hard. It’s really cool to read – I read everything – to have teams speak highly of us. From a coach’s standpoint, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Seattle travels to Tucson this weekend to face Santa Monica in the national DI quarterfinals. On Sunday, the Saracens will play either Austin or Denver Black Ice for the berth to the national final against the eastern bracket’s victor on June 4 in Glendale, Colo.