So after a strong showing in earning the Challenger Cup at the 2012 Collegiate Rugby Championship, the Gators have one goal in mind when they travel to Philadelphia: Shock the world.
UF’s sevens squad has been training together since early April in preparation for the CRC, an invitation-only tournament comprised of the 20 best collegiate rugby clubs in the country. The physically demanding schedule, along with the elite competition, has fueled the Gators throughout the grueling workouts.
“There are times you don’t think you can get to a certain spot on the field or make a tackle, but you have to overcome that doubt and leave it all on the field,” said Lucas Baistrocchi, the team captain.
Baistrocchi, a rising senior, headlines a squad that makes up for a lack of experience with heart, size and chemistry. The Argentinian flyhalf is one of the top players in the country and has been a star for the USA South team.
Along with Robert Roux, who will be playing in his third CRC tournament, the Gators have two tough, experienced leaders.
The rest of the squad features a blend of speed and power, as Paul Rice and Josh Nicdao possess top-end quickness while Mitch Taulbee and Ryan Gilbert are second-year players who are excellent tacklers.
While some squads rely on a single superstar, the Gators do it differently. Baistrocchi and Roux are certainly the two players coaches Ken Simmons and Gary Byrne rely on the most, but the Gators’ mantra of “Next man up” should carry them to new heights.
Though powerhouses like California, Dartmouth and Life University garner more national attention, that means little to the Gators.
“The only team you can worry about is your own,” said Roux. “We don’t even think about the schedule. All that matters is being the best team on that day.”
Preparation for the CRC has been a job in itself for UF’s sevens squad. Baistrocchi and new coach Steve Braunstein have headed up the fitness portion, a critical task in the high-paced game of sevens rugby. Stadium sessions, bootcamp and circuit training in 90-degree heat are nothing out of the ordinary for the 12-man squad.
UF’s level of fitness has paid early dividends as the Gators won the Blazin’ 7’s tournament in Valdosta, Ga., and the Sunshine State Games in Sarasota, Fla. The final tune-up will be a hometown affair, as UF hosts the inaugural Curtis Shepherd Invitational at Hume Field this Saturday. Shepherd was a former UF rugby player who tragically passed away a few years ago. Tallahassee, Daytona and a UF alumni side are among the teams participating.
As the days wind down to the CRC, the Gators’ focus and preparation is at an all-time high. Settling for second-best isn’t in the cards.
“Last year we basically won ninth place,” Baistrocchi said. “Everyone here believes we can win the whole thing.”
Congratulations to the 2013 CRC team: