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Ref Report: Bulldogs Power Past Broncos

  • 05 Feb 2019

Referee Larry Freitas and Fresno State captain Raquel Macias

Fresno State Bulldogs hosted the Santa Clara University Broncos in a West Coast Division Two match at Wawona Middle School in Fresno this past Saturday, February 2. It had been raining a bit as Santa Clara arrived at the school and walked out to the pitch, which was being set up by various Fresno State players. The goal posts were set up, the field lined well, flags affixed at their proper spots, and by 1pm the game was underway under a gray, but a now dry, sky.

The pitch itself wasn’t in too bad of shape. There was just as much oxcalis weed as grass, a few dormant brown spots here and there, and some places had an inch or two of standing water, but the surface itself was flat and there were no gopher holes or dips that can cause an ankle sprain or worse. Fresno won the toss and elected to defend the south end to have the brisk and chilly wind at their back for the first half of play.

It took all of two minutes for Fresno State to score the first of nine of their trys. Working their way downfield through a few phases, Laura Seeger, outside center, placed the ball under the posts for that first score. Regan Garner’s attempted conversion sailed to the right of the post for a quick 5-0 lead.

For the next ten minutes Santa Clara’s defense held firm, but at twelve minutes a gap in the defense led to another try for the home side by Seeger once again, with Garner converting. A third try came about when scrumhalf Raquel Macias sniped through an open space at the side of a ruck near halfway, dodged a tackle, and scampered the rest of the way to the goal line. With a quarter of the match gone, Fresno State had a handy lead.

Photo courtesy Fresno State Facebook

Right wing Meaghan Gallagher got the next try, followed up by the smallest and fastest player on the pitch, left wing Chetna Kumar, at thirty-two minutes. Fresno State’s backline was able to spread the ball out to the wing on this day, even with a wet ball and soggy and muddy conditions. At thirty-eight minutes inside center Averi Peterson scored the last try of the half for the Bulldogs.

Santa Clara’s restart kick was knocked forward by Macias, and as the ball squirted ahead some five meters, a teammate kicked the ball downfield. From the spot of the offside penalty, just Fresno State’s side of the halfway line, Santa Clara ran the ball, and Carly Fowler, inside center, found a gap in the defense, broke a few tackles, then carried a few tacklers on her back, and penetrated deep into Fresno State’s end. A ruck near the goal line was stopped just short, but Fowler collected the ball and dove over for the visitor’s first try as the half ended.

Flyhalf Margaret Avery, as she had done against UC Santa Cruz a few weeks prior, converting from near the touchline and well within the 22, then did the same, though this time the kick was from nearly 15 meters in. The touch judges’ flags went up, the whistle blew for that score, and then once again three times to end the half, and Fresno State had a commanding lead of 40 points to Santa Clara’s 7.

It did not take long for Fresno to get another try as the second half started. From a set piece near mid-field, the ball swung left and into the hands of Kumar, who rounded her marker and sped her way to the goal line. At fifty-two minutes it was Kumar, once again leaving defenders behind her grasping for air, scoring a third try for herself.

As the game wore on, handling errors by either side amounted to numerous set scrums, with the wet ball and fatigue setting in. Fresno State won more than a few against the head, depriving Santa Clara of some opportunities of winning a set piece well inside Fresno’s half.

A penalty for hands in the ruck, as Fresno more often than not attempted some counter-rucks, led to another Santa Clara try, this time by Jessica Lew-Munoz, captain and number 8, who broke a few tackles to score near the corner at sixty-seven minutes. This time Avery’s conversion attempt was short and wide.

Fresno were not quite through, though. Flanker Le claire Franco ended the scoring for the day, for Fresno, just a few minutes short of full time. In the last minute of play Santa Clara got very close to scoring a try, but a player mistook the 5-meter stripe for the goal line, placing the ball down beyond it as she was tackled. As Raquel Macias was quick to point out, that amounted to a knock-on, and therefore the whistle blew to end the match. It was a muddy group of players clapping each other off the pitch afterwards.

Fresno State’s 57-12 win was their fourth of the season. They’ve already beaten Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and San Jose State. Nevada-Reno will more than likely be their biggest challenge, the last game of the season on March 16. Having seen each team play, I can’t venture to say which side would have the upper hand. Nevada Reno beat CSUMB 39-20, a game I touch judged the previous week.

Having seen Fresno State during the last few seasons, in that I’ve refereed some of their matches, I also can say that having lost a few very good players to graduation, Jenna Balestra and Moriah Halteman, who was out last season with an ACL injury, they do not seem any weaker this year. Senior Raquel Macias has been more than a competent replacement for Halteman. Regan Garner might not have Balestra’s talent overall, but she’s steady at flyhalf and distributes the ball well to her three-quarters, and is a reliable kicker, from ball in hand in play as well as in taking conversions and penalty kicks. In this match against Santa Clara, she booted the ball well downfield a few times when she saw that no one was home at fullback, as the backs were all up in defense, with one of those kicks regathered upfield, resulting in a try.

Their forwards handled Santa Clara’s pack in the scrums, though in the lineout Santa Clara was able to steal more than a few of Fresno’s throw-ins. I’d say then that that is Fresno’s weakness: its lineout play.

Regarding Santa Clara, they’ve been hit by the injury bug this season. In losing a close game to San Jose State in December, they lost, for the season, two very good backline players to ACLs: senior Rachel Schneider and sophomore Courtney Davis. Junior flyhalf Faith Harlan, who played well in the win versus UC Santa Cruz in January, having a hamstring injury late in that match, missed this one against Fresno State, but will return against Cal Poly next week, a game that is scheduled to be played at Steven’s Field, the former Buck Shaw Stadium, a grass field, instead of on the artificial turf of Bellomy Field, at the Mission Campus. Margaret Avery will return to her usual fullback position.


LARRY FREITAS lives in Aptos, Calif., on the Central Coast and has refereed in Northern California Rugby Union Referee Society for last few decades. He’s played for Santa Clara University, San Diego Rugby Club, Santa Cruz Rebels, and California Bald Eagles. Retired English and history teacher, and besides volunteering my time for rugby refereeing duties, a volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Author of a novel, “Margaret McCole,” about a fictitious pioneer woman surfer whose fictitious father played rugby at Stanford during the rugby-playing era in California of 1906-1918. Available online at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

#FresnoState #SantaClara #WestCoastRugbyConference

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