Oregon State is representing the North at the DI Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference (PMRC) Championship this weekend, and will kick off its post-season against reigning spring champion Chico State in Saturday’s semifinals. The PMRC will send two teams to spring regionals, so a win on Saturday means a trip to UC Irvine in two weeks.
RELATED: DI College Spring Playoff Update
Oregon State only graduated four players from last year’s team, but it produced a noticeable shift on the pitch. The team rallies around the heart of the backline: flyhalf Lauren Sluss, inside center and captain Alexandra “Nacho” Fautanu, and outside center Constance Parker. Fautanu moved from No. 8 to the centers this year but the seniors have a lot of field time together, and it shows in their communication and fluidity.
“They’re our main platform,” Oregon State head coach David Dickson said of the back trio. “I have one senior in the forwards, but there is a good core of sophomores and juniors, so looking to next year, things might swing the other way in terms of experience.”
The pack does lack some depth, and that could be an issue this weekend. Oregon State is heading to Palo Alto, Calif., with 20 players, and of those five reserves, four are backs.
Numbers are a concern during a two-game weekend, but what Oregon State lacks in bodies, it makes up in purpose.
“Everyone’s excited, but the people returning from last year have a little extra motivation,” Dickson said. “Last year, results wise, we did O.K. in the league. Our only loss was to [Washington State] so we finished second. We were optimistic of having a good showing [at PMRC playoffs] and then Stanford just killed us. We left there licking our wounds, and the returners haven’t forgotten that feeling. It’s motivated the squad for a better showing.”
Oregon State’s build-up hasn’t been as robust as it could have been. Although active in the fall, some uncontrollable factors canceled a valuable trip to Chico State and another home game. The league season then began with Washington State, which ended up going undefeated but was deemed ineligible for playoffs due to disciplinary sanctions.
“The timing of that first game is neutral evil,” Dickson said. “I don’t like opening against them because, as I’ve known for the last couple of years, the game against Wazzu is the toughest league game of the season. It’s always tough to prepare for a league opener against your toughest opposition. You haven’t played a game yet – but they’re in the same boat. If you face them later in the year, you’re stronger, but so are they. But if you want to advance to playoffs, you have to be able to beat them at any point, so the timing doesn’t make that big of a difference.”
Oregon State lost 24-10 to Washington State, and the outing provided some useful information for critical adjustments. There had been ball control issues during the transition from the breakdown to halfbacks, and positional moves followed. Sophia Betts now manages the game from scrumhalf, and a better flow has followed.
A pretty competitive league season followed, as Oregon State, Washington, Western Washington and the University of Oregon pushed each other in several single-digit decisions. Boise State lacked numbers but did travel to OSU for a 13-on-15 match.
Oregon State built some nice momentum and has a good idea of where the team stands, but the activity has tailed off during the two previous weeks. Finals were last week, and it’s policy for recreation sports to not hold practice during this testing period. This week is spring break and so half of the team is out of town. Yesterday’s training had eight people, and players will continue to trickle in, but the whole squad won’t be together until Friday in California – the first time in two weeks.
“I feel alright about it, but there is a little bit of uneasiness when going into games like this and coming off of spring break,” Dickson said. “I honestly don’t know what to expect, and it’s been my many-years-long frustration with coaching – trying to predict how the team is going to be on game day. Sometimes they’re firing on all cylinders, and other times there are mental mistakes and they’re not sharp. … So it could go either way. Maybe they’ll be well rested and sharp, or maybe they’ll be rusty.”
Oregon State will have some time to watch the first PMRC semifinal between Stanford and UC Davis before readying for Chico State at 3 p.m. ET.
“We do feel O.K. about Chico just because we’ve had a good report with them. We do friendlies and they’re a good team to have a spirited rivalry with,” Dickson said. “We enjoy playing them – they’re good sports, have good coaches – and we’re familiar with their style.”
The Rugby Breakdown will be on site for the PMRC playoffs so stayed tuned for photos and interviews this weekend.