Things are different for Central Washington this year, and head coach Todd Thornley hopes that's a good thing.
As the Wildcats start the season tonight against UC Davis in California and then take on Saint Mary's on Saturday, CWU has five reasons to feel pretty good about things.
“We’re very, very young,” said Thornley. And he’s not kidding. Of the roster of 41 players, 30 are freshmen or sophomores, with 19 of those being first-year students. It’s a young team, and likely most of the squad that suits up against UC Davis will be freshmen.
But, don’t take them lightly.
“The players are also very talented,” warned Thornley.
Returning Players Remember Last January
“The guys thought they could just turn up and play and they’d win,” said Thornley. “We didn’t have the preparation we needed in the fall and UC Davis is a very well-coached side, and they hang around and annoy you, and they pushed us and won.”
Thornley said his players learned from that experience, and while the spring of 2018 wasn’t a flood of wins, it was useful in terms of getting ready for this year.
The preparation shift includes no sevens in the fall of 2018. CWU is adopting an approach that some other programs have embraced: don’t worry about the fall at all. Just get started in January, play the season, and if there are sevens tournaments to play in May and June, well, fine. That has allowed Thornley to concentrate on getting his 15s team right for this week.
They Have A Better Schedule
As an independent team with no conference to play in, CWU has had to find a schedule where it can. Last year was tough, especially in February, when the Wildcats had two open weekends.
This year, it’s different. The season is full, with UC Davis and Saint Mary’s kicking off a winter/spring that include a home-and-homes with BYU and with Utah Valley.
“I really like our schedule,” said Thornley. “It gives us flexibility with all sorts of different challenges. It’s really important to be able to string games back-to-back-to-back. From a coach’s standpoint you don’t want to be sitting around overanalyzing.”
The regular season ends against Grand Canyon, a team that was independent until this year when the ‘Lopes joined the California Conference.
“Grand Canyon is a really good fixture; we’re similarly ranked. [Coach] Cam Wyper does a great job down there and they’re undergoing the same process we are,” said Thornley.
A New Home
Central Washington men’s rugby is a varsity program and is being treated as such. The university just refurbished Tomlinson Stadium on campus. It’s the football stadium, but has been renovated with rugby lines on the World Rugby-approved artificial surface.
The football posts are there, but when it’s time to play rugby, the football posts come down, and the rugby posts go up on the goal line, where they’re supposed to be. It’s a case of getting value for money for the school. Instead of using the stadium six days a year for home football games, now it will be in used dozens of times for rugby and soccer.
“We are very excited to play there,” said Thornley. “The guys absolutely love it.”
But it all starts tonight at UC Davis.