March 5, 2011-Three years ago, Saint Mary's advanced to the DI National College Championship semifinals, and lost to Cal by only 10 points. In the subsequent two years, Saint Mary's has exited nationals in the first round, although by narrow margins. But the team isn't interested in the footnotes of their previous underperformances, and will use the increased tempo of the College Premier Division to kickstart their path back to the top. Rugby Mag.com's #4 ranked team has everything going for them, and are driven by a solid core of players who are motivated by the past couple of years' early season ends.

 


"We're looking very strong," said captain Kyle Batten. "We haven't lost many people in the last couple of years, so we have a group who have been playing together the last three or four years. We've become very close, know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and can fill in for anyone anywhere. The last two years have been sitting on everyone's back, and we're ready to push onto the next level now. We feel like it's there for us to take."

Saint Mary's isn't the biggest of the teams, but they have threatening outside speed and move the ball nicely to showcase that advantage. Backed by the leadership skills of captains Andrew Cook and Chad Clark, the team prides itself on adapting to their opponents' assets and deficiencies, and uses their aptitude to read the field and their opponent to make up for what the team lacks in size. Batten is a prime example of Saint Mary's game plan, though the 6'1", 255 lb. senior is a starting lock. He picked up the game in South Africa, stuck with it when the family moved to France, and continued plying his trade with Diablo High School and Lamorinda once he landed in the states. From there, he chose St. Mary's for their strong college program and blossomed under the tutelage of coach Tim O'Brien.

"I played No. 8 through high school, but up in college it's a little faster than I'm able to play," Batten said of his move to the pack. "Tim's coaching has made me a better lock and I've really grown into that position. I enjoy playing lock; it suits my style of play."

Batten isn't the flashiest of players, but he does all of the tough work; loves rucking and the physical aspect of the game. But when given the chance to run with the ball, he doesn't shy away from eating up the open space. In fact, one of his favorite memories is scoring the winning try over UC Davis in 2009, an overtime try that pushed St. Mary's into the playoffs.

Fortuitous for Batten, he can draw upon that memory as the team prepares for its opening CPL match against Davis. It's a team that Saint Mary's should beat, although Batten insisted the team's not underestimating any team in the CPL, all of whom are looking to put their mark on the inaugural season. He and his teammates are looking toward Cal, however, a game that is easily their most difficult and a team with which they're very familiar.

 


On Facing the Cal Bears- "We play them every year, but you can't go into a game thinking you're already defeated," Batten said of the pre-match mentality. " You have to know that you can beat them, stick to your game strategy and commit to outworking them."

Saint Mary's built their confidence over the pre-season, a warm-up that saw them slay several college teams and men's clubs like San Francisco Golden Gate, Back Bay, Los Angeles and Olympic Club. The team ended its pre-season with two games against Canada powerhouse UBC, splitting the matches. Unfortunately the final game yielded a 45-5 loss.

 


"It's great playing these big, strong men's teams. It's allowed us to grow," Batten said. "It was tough losing to UBC to end our pre-season. It was especially hard watching from the sidelines. But even though we lost, we took away several lessons. We need to fix our first-up tackles, and they did some damage to our scrums."

And for the lessons learned during pre-season, Batten appreciated the losses. He and the team are focused on staying healthy, an obstacle that has played the squad in the last couple of years, and will field its top 15 come Saturday. For players like Batten, 2011 is the year to peak and an opportunity to assuage the dismay of the past, and it all begins with a win against Davis.

By Jackie Finlan, Featured in RugbyMag.com

Groups audience 
Maps & Directories

Mailing Address

Saint Mary's College of California
1928 Saint Mary's Road
Moraga, CA 94575
(925) 631-4000
Google Map | Campus Map | PO Boxes