Thursday, July 17, 2008

2007-2008 Season Wrap-up & Thoughts

Well folks, just a few thoughts about the '07-'08 season. I must admit I had my doubts, what with the loss of several star players from the year previous, but BYU still managed to get to the Big Dance against Cal Berkeley for the 3rd consecutive year. I think that proves BYU is a legitimate team; both the coaches and players were motivated enough to get all the way back to the national championship game despite having more less-experienced players than usual on the starting squad.

As I said, I was rather skeptical at the start of the season; newer players didn't look to be fully 'getting it', and more experienced players didn't exactly look dazzling either. I suppose that when you come away from a season in which BYU outscored opponents an average ratio of 10:1, then your expectations are somewhat inflated. Nevertheless, BYU managed to beat Utah solidly in their usual preseason bout, 34-10, but only beat Texas A&M 22-11 (if I remember correctly, the score would have been greater if not for so many missed kicks for points).

Once the regular season started in the spring, I wasn't completely sure BYU would be able to put it together in time to be as competitive in the National Championship as all four previous years. In an attempt to gain more experience, BYU took on three different Men's club teams throughout the season and lost to all (barely to Park City Haggis, which team was lucky the officiating was shocking, seriously!). These losses were a mental blow but not too much so since they came against men's teams... when I heard BYU lost to Colorado, however, I was just plain shocked! I mean, where did Colorado come from??? My brother was quick to tell me that BYU had injured starters that couldn't play, and apparently Colorado was awarded one or two penalty tries early in the game. Still, I have high expectations of the BYU Men's Rugby Team always, and I was unpleasantly surprised by the loss.

The Wasatch Cup match proved to be most interesting. Over the years, the annual match between the University of Utah and BYU has proven to be more of a battle than a test. This year's match, however, was quite calm. Any fighting that did break out was quickly and easily subdued... and all the while, the score was incredibly close. I thought that tensions would be enough to make everyone snap, but hats off to all the fellas for keeping a cool head. It was almost too clean, too quiet. After BYU won 30-27, there was very little fanfare between players and fans. Everybody, in general, seemed rather sluggish over a win that should have felt like a real barn-burner.

With the win, BYU automatically qualified for the round of 16 to face Dartmouth in the National Tournament. But before tourney time, BYU lifted their spirits by beating on Air Force 54-10 (vengeance for BYU's loss at home four years earlier) and shutting out Utah State 65-0.

By the time the Sweet 16 weekend came around, BYU had definitely improved as a team in their overall execution and coordination. BYU emerged successful over Dartmouth in the first round, 48-22, in what many said was a much closer game than the score showed. Dartmouth displayed a dynamic style of play but didn't quite have enough to get the edge on BYU.

The second round yielded a similar result. I actually got to watch most of the game online, and I must say, BYU pretty well broke San Diego State in the first half by establishing a solid, double-digit lead. In spite of having a few talented players, SDSU couldn't ever manage to string together more than a couple phases before being crushed by the BYU defense. BYU walked away with a W, 37-14.

I felt a sigh of relief, since my preseason fears had so far been upended... but in the back of my mind, I knew that perhaps BYU's most formidable opponent, save Cal Berkeley, was Colorado (the only college club to beat BYU in the regular season). And BYU had to face them in the Final Four in two weeks to be able to make it three straight years against Cal in the Final Game. Needless to say, I felt quite tense. On the one hand, I knew that BYU would definitely put up a fight to avenge their earlier loss, and I knew that Colorado had barely squeaked by Utah, 31-30, and by Penn State, 58-55 in overtime. On the other hand, I knew that both Utah and Penn State were solid opponents and that Colorado boasted a star player of sorts, Maximo de Achaval.

I was literally gripping my seat (at home watching online again) as the match kicked off. I can't remember exactly when BYU scored... all I know is that I jumped out of the office chair I was sitting in and thrust it down hard (I was still holding on tight to the armrests); in my moment of glee, I broke off one of the rollers. I felt a pang of guilt mingle easily with my anxiety, since the chair belongs to my roommate... but luckily, he wasn't home...

Shortly after BYU's first score, Colorado managed to get close to their 10-meter line, and as I looked on in disbelief, Senor de Achaval coolly posted three points with a drop-goal... a drop-goal, folks! I've only ever seen a few of those attempted in all of the college matches I've attended, and only a couple such attempts were successful. Hmmm, so maybe this Maximo guy was legit... BYU scored once more (again missing the conversion... tough day for Tim Steflik), and Colorado answered with another three points off a penalty kick by de Achaval, making the score 10-6. I thought it would continue to be a close game, but BYU's tenacity proved too much for Colorado, especially when de Achaval was injured just before halftime. The score at the half was 25-6 in BYU's favor.

BYU's pack (forwards) were dominant, as always, and set the standard not only defensively but also offensively. Props to Derek Smith (no pun intended) for coming out of the woodwork to score four tries (crazy!). BYU's back line maintained a coordinated defensive and offensive push as well, an accomplishment that they have rarely been consistent in achieving. In the second half, BYU racked up more points while Colorado limped around, literally: Maximo de Achaval came back to play most all of the second half with one leg completely covered in tape; I've never seen anything like it. Yet again to his credit, he let loose a high kick later in the game from about ten meters out and managed to get there to gather it himself and touch down for a try! Insane! He also nailed the conversion to score all thirteen of Colorado's points on the day. And all the while, Tim Steflik was cold as ice
(missed five conversion attempts)until finally hitting the point-after kick on BYU's last try of the day. No matter, BYU rolled over Colorado, 42-13.

Revenge is sweet, so they say, but I almost felt sorry for Colorado. They were clearly dominated from the beginning, and to add to their woes, the team champion was incapacitated during all the second half. My respects, nonetheless.

Now, to speak or not to speak of Cal... Honestly, I can't say too much, since I didn't even get to see the Final Game as I was traveling at the time. And I think I am probably a better person as a result. Late that night, I saw the score on, felt quite demoralized, and went to bed. Thank goodness I was out of the country, or I might have done or said something overly irrational!

Well, the final score was 59-7 (in Cal's favor, if you didn't gather that by now) with BYU scoring very late in the game to at least put something on the board. What a shocker, especially after such a sweet win against Colorado! Sad! From what I gathered from a few BYU players, the match was probably the worst BYU played all season, physically and mentally, and probably the best Cal did... Hmmm, how about the worst moment ever to poop out, fellas??? Three years in a row, we have lost to Cal and each year by a larger margin of points. As much as I wish to sympathize with BYU, I'd rather make a pitch for all of us to wake up! All of us, players, coaches, and fans, need to step it up more than ever before if we are to bring home the ever-coveted National Collegiate Title.

And it's possible. I know it is. I will live to see the day when BYU rugby not only beats but embarrasses Cal in the Final Game. Perhaps the time is not yet. Perhaps the day will come while my sons are playing for BYU. Perhaps while my grandsons are playing for BYU. Perhaps while I am on my deathbed, about to kick the bucket, I will finally see BYU victorious with no one else left standing. What a great day that will be! In the meantime, my friends, work... work... and more work.

My many congratulations to all the BYU players, coaches, and fans for exceeding expectations and, through it all, making it to the 2008 Championship Game, a feat which I should not downplay in the least! I am proud to support the BYU Rugby Team and have great expectations for the coming season, as always! Onward, to victory!

1 comment:

  1. BYu Rugby forever!!! Remember when we drove to Stanford and almost died in the mountain pass on the way there? That was awesome!!


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