Gaels Continue Preseason Play Against UC Santa Cruz and Interview with Alec Barton

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By: Christian Portillo

MORAGA, CALIF. - After a successful win over Chico State to begin the preseason, the Saint Mary’s rugby team will get the ball rolling on the road against UC Santa Cruz this Saturday at 12 noon. Right after the A side match, the B side will take on the Banana Slugs as well. Coach Tim O’Brien expects 45 Gael ruggers to play for at least forty minutes over the course of the two matches. Although the pitch may be wet in Santa Cruz, the Gaels will go out with a full head of steam ready to attack and play a fast and wide game.

 

Gael Rugby was able to catch up with San Diego native Alec Barton to talk about his path to Saint Mary’s, the rich tradition of the Gaels, and how he plans to approach his last year of collegiate rugby.

*Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

On his start in rugby and his path to becoming an All-American at Saint Mary’s…

I was first exposed to rugby when I watched my brother play when I was in eighth grade. I started playing my freshman year of high school, really enjoyed it, and made it a priority. I made it at Saint Mary’s because there were many connections between my club team and Saint Mary’s. After visiting SMC, I realized it was a really good atmosphere and that I wanted to play a high level of college rugby.

On how Coaches Tim O’Brien and Johnny Everett have been able to foster a culture of success at Saint Mary’s…

Every time I talk to Tim, it seems like he’s one step ahead of American rugby. He uses every resource he can to improve the game. He never settles for mediocrity and wants to improve the team. Johnny is the master of making something out of nothing. He turns players that never played rugby before into All-Americans and is a hard nosed guy but gets the job done.

On what separates Saint Mary’s rugby program from the rest…

Our playing style is the most fun to be a part of. It is fun, versatile, [and allows you] to be a great teammate while being able to show off your individual skills. The [Saint Mary’s rugby] program is moving forward fast-there are awesome resources at hand and awesome supporters. The brotherhood is an experience like I’ve never experienced before. Tim and Johnny have moved my game to a place I never thought it would go-they have done it several times. They have done it several times [at the team level] and have taken us to national championships.

On the West Coast Sevens Tournament at Treasure Island and if there is anything that members from the Sevens team can take and apply to the 15s?

It was a wonderful experience-Joey Reavey is the head coach and has made it an awesome experience and has encouraged us. It was an absolute fun time. We found a groove and a good playing style. It’s fun to watch young players show off their talent-the freshmen made big contributions. We have grown as a program and not just in 7s. The way we play in 7s is similar to  the way we play in 15s. [We have] lots of playmakers who are willing to give up the ball and set up teammates but at same time can make top notch individual plays. It is a great opportunity [for them] to play 7s and develop skills and get ready for 15s at the peak of their game.

On upholding the rich rugby tradition and legacy at Saint Mary’s…

The coaching staff has been able to build up our program to a place where no one ever thought it could go. Their positive outlook and confidence in our potential has been key. One thing that has influenced me is the leadership that the older players represented-they really influenced how I wanted to be. The best leaders on team were leaders by example. The older guys on the team have taken that [leadership style] and lead by example, do their due diligence, and work hard to make their players improve as a team.

On what to take away from the Red vs. Blue Scrimmage…

Red vs Blue is always really fun. It is really fun to see the young guys because it is their time to showcase their talents and show what they offer to the program. It is a great atmosphere-there are lots of eyes on you-so it is important to take it seriously and sets the tone for the rest of the year. [The Red vs. Blue Scrimmage] allows you to find the best players that are willing to step up in the big moments. We want to mesh and make sure that we hit game one with the pace, tempo, and teamwork that we want for the rest of the season. We don’t want a slow start. Meshing and getting that cohesiveness so that we don’t have bumps in the road going forward [is key].

On how excited he is to kick off his last year of collegiate rugby and if it will be bittersweet...

Absolutely. These 4 years have been 4 of the most exciting, learning years of my life-[it has been an] opportunity to play for the best coaches in the country and to play with some of the best American players.

On how he plans to enjoy every moment of this season while still working hard to accomplish his goals…

On Tuesday we had our first practice. I told myself going to practice on Tuesday to make sure that each practice is the best practice because it will be my last year of rugby and I don’t want to undermine it. I will do anything to move the program forward in my last year. I am excited to see where we go, to see some players step up, and to move the program forward.

A message for all of the Gael rugby fans, alumni, and supporters…

The support we get is fundamental and we've gotten wonderful support all four years I've been here. There’s always been someone by my side, through the struggles and all of the highs and lows. Our goal is to win a national championship just like it has been every year I've been here. Losing last year provides extra motivation. We lost and promptly went to the classroom. Obviously everyone was really sad at the moment. We did a prognosis, troubleshot, and asked ourselves what can we do to improve next year. [This season] is an opportunity to show the country that we’re #1 and that St. Mary’s is the best team in the country.