slide 1
slide 1

NOTE: Only paying subscribers have access to locked content. LEARN MORE.

Cal's Triplett Coaching a Broad Game

  • 03 Feb 2016

Former Eagle Mari Wallace played in two WRWCs before coaching at Cal. (Photo left: Bill English; right: Laura Lorenz)


Most remember Mari Wallace Triplett for her contributions to the front row during the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2006 and 2010. Now, like many of her former Eagle teammates, the Bay Area native has transitioned into coaching. Her first appointment: Cal. The Bears have a legacy of success and prominent alumni, but when Triplett joined the women’s rugby program, it was in a vulnerable state.


Recent years have seen a host of coaches – Ellen Owens, Brandon Sparks, Irene Gardner, Lucy Croy, to name a few – lead the Bears, and that turnover engendered some instability. In addition to consistency issues, other initiatives, like dedicated recruiting, had suffered.


“I’d say there was some skeptic enthusiasm,” Triplett remembered her initial interview with team officers. “The vets had gone through some transition, but were all very dedicated to the squad and club. I was enthusiastic and optimistic about the season, and continue to be so.”


Triplett also had a plan.


“I’m focused on upping the competitiveness of the club; fostering relationships with organizations, the administration and the community; and trying to build the foundation from which we can make additional steps up,” Triplett said.


First, the team itself. Cal is carrying 26 players, eight of which are veterans, so the friendly fall season was all about fundamentals, fun and retention. Familiar players like prop Abby Vogel (captain) and lock Ceara Lafferty have been instrumental in getting the mostly inexperienced team up to speed. Meanwhile newcomers like Meeko Luarca and Becca Hernandez have emerged as players-to-watch.


The backs are a different story. During Cal’s Pacific Mountain West opener, UC Davis (2-0) carved up a mostly freshmen back line. The Bears lost that game 80-12.


“Obviously inexperience will lead to an increased number of tries for the opposition, and there are certainly a lot of things we can fix to tighen up that scoreline,” Triplett reflected on the Jan. 23 match. “But all credit to Davis. They took their opportunities and had phenomenal offloads. The younger girls, it takes a while to understand when to squeeze in on defense and when to pull out, going up passing channels – that sort of thing.”


There was recompense. Cal had informed Davis that it traveled with 24 players, and while it wanted to supply a B side game, that decision would have to wait until the A side game concluded.


“Ninety percent of the girls put their hands up to play in the B side game, and I think were having a good time,” Triplett beamed. “The girls are excited to learn and enthusiastic to get back on the pitch even after a loss.”


That enthusiasm played out last Saturday, when Cal overcame a two-point halftime deficit to beat Chico State (1-1) 27-22. Vogel, Cathy Cai, Tyana Cullen and Kathryn Johnson scored tries, while Greer Sullivan added a conversion.


“They’re finding their footing,” Triplett said. “We have a few great leaders at the top, but it’s not a climate where there are so many veterans helping the new players along and you’re filling a couple of gaps with rookies. We have big gaps. But it’s such a good opportunity for others to step into those roles and make the team what they want it to be.”


Internal focus is important, but Triplett is also trying to embed the team into the larger rugby community. The coach has organized prospect tours, converses regularly with high school coaches, and engages the rugby alumni.


“I’m trying to build the historical culture of rugby and make sure they understand that all of these other teams exist, and connect them a bit,” Triplett said. “I always tell the girls: We’re working for the long game. Everything we’re doing is for the next group coming in, so think about the legacy you’re leaving for the club, and not just the team you’re stepping onto the pitch with.”


All of this off-field work will hopefully fuel the third tenant in Triplett’s plan: elevating the program.


“They have applied for varsity in the past, and it’s an on-going conversation,” Triplett said. “Is it a number one priority right now? No. But it’s woven into what we’re trying to accomplish this year from both an administrative and competitive perspective.”


In the meantime, both coach and players have a lot of learning to do. Once the league season ends, Cal will play some friendlies (including a visiting Dartmouth on tour), and transition to 7s with an eye toward nationals. There’s a lot in motion, and hopefully Cal has found its coaching fit.


“My plan is to be here for a number of years,” Triplett asserted. “I really like the college landscape, but it’s challenging. There’s always turnover – it keeps you on your feet. They need some consistency, and I just want to make the club a more sustainable being.”

Article Categories:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.