Sports

Making Their Mark: The Rise of Club Sports at Menlo

By Brian Brownfield-

The club sport system was designed to give more students the opportunity to get involved in activities they otherwise would not be exposed to. Sure, there were athletic clubs on campus prior to this system being introduced. However, they lacked structure. They lacked formality. This semester, all of that changed and the variety of club sports at Menlo increased. Success was initially thought to be a few semesters away, but it has already be seen on the field for these athletic clubs. The system is starting to thrive and is leaving the door wide open for Menlo to add more club sports to its assortment in the future.

Menlo Ultimate Team

Photo by Aaron Gillespie

Despite only being in its second year, Menlo Ultimate,  is the longest standing club sport on campus. Started in 2014 by Cornelius Woods and Brian Brownfield, the club gives non-athletes and athletes alike the opportunity to play a sport that involves a good amount of exercise while building friendships.  Ultimate Frisbee is a game similar to soccer in the sense of continuous disc movement, but it is also similar to football in the sense of scoring in end-zones. Another similarity to both sports is the halftime, taken when the first team scores eight points. The first team to score fifteen points wins the game.

Learning the sport was not an easy task for the majority of players, but the club meets three times each week to work on improving skill. Practice for Menlo Ultimate consists of warm-up disc tossing and then an intramural scrimmage. These scrimmages are the closest way to replicate playing an actual contest and give each club member valuable playing time. In the club’s first year, they participated in three games, taking on San Francisco State University once and Stanford twice. All three games resulted in losses, but the club made consistent strides and improved each game. This year, improvements are even larger, and will be put to the test in games throughout the year.

“We have more individual bonds being made, which is strengthening our overall play as a group,” noted President of External Affairs Cornelius Woods. “We have several new players willing to learn and develop, and their ability to learn has enhanced everyone else’s leadership and teaching skills. Maturity is also a factor. Everyone who was here last year has continued to become better players on the field while knowing how to react in certain situations.”

In one official contest this year, Menlo Ultimate took on San Francisco State University in a rematch of last year. The game was history-making for the Oaks as they recorded their first win in program history, winning 15-14. Menlo held the lead for most of the game, and had to survive a late rally from San Francisco State that tied the game at 14. Shaq McCray scored the game winning goal on an assist from Garrett Spangler, and Menlo could finally celebrate. It was a game statistically dominated by McCray, who led Menlo with 6 goals and 1 assist. Spangler added 3 goals and 2 assists, while Logan McDirmit proved valuable with 5 assists.

“I played frisbee in high school just tossing it around, and now it’s crazy to see that Menlo has a team. Frisbee is just such a fun game but it’s also competitive,” Anthony Pitini says. “There are a lot of people in this club and there is a lot of diversity. We have athletes and non-athletes, but we all come together. There are some that just want to play and some who want to compete against other schools, but we all have one common objective, to play frisbee.”

Menlo Rugby team 2015

Photo courtesy of Menlo Rugby

Another large success story among club sports at Menlo is the formation of Menlo Rugby. Menlo’s first ever Rugby team was formed shortly after the cancellation of the college’s football team, and there was some belief that it would quickly replace football. While those rumors were eventually squelched, the team quickly filled its roster and ordered uniforms, proving that it should not be taken lightly. Practices engulfed the spring semester of 2015, and when the new school year began this fall, games were already in place. Getting everyone’s schedule on the same page can be difficult when scheduling games, so Menlo’s Rugby team has played in two games with 10 starters, and 3 games with 7 starters (a typical rugby match features 15 players). Menlo is 1-1 in 10’s with a victory over Sonoma State, and 1-3 in 7’s with a victory over Santa Clara University.

“Right now we have a good foundation. We have a lot of great athletes and two coaches,” senior Kiai Collier stated when asked about the future of the program. Collier was one of the proponents pushing for Menlo to add rugby to its list of club sports. “As far as recruiting, if we could have more participation from students who are willing to play, the program would take off and become very competitive within the next year or so.”

On its most fundamental level, rugby is a game similar to football in terms of scoring. Every time a player scores in the end-zone, the team gets 5 points. The following conversion kick gains 2 points, similar to the extra point in football. Penalty kicks are similar to those in soccer, where a team gets a free kick after an opposing foul. Penalty kicks are worth 3 points. A player can also score 3 points on another type of kick called a dropped goal. In this scenario, a player drops the ball and then kicks it once it bounces from the ground. If it goes through the uprights, just as in football, 3 points are scored.

“The boys are really starting to understand the game in a different way. They are starting to think different and their rugby IQ has improved,” Collier noted in reference to the improvement of the team from day one. “A lot of that has to do with the knowledge of coach Gene Mountjoy and the experience we have all gotten over time.”

While the amount of games played by Menlo Ultimate and Rugby are relatively low in the fall semester, each team hopes for an improved schedule in the spring semester. Due to classes and extracurriculars, most students are more free in the spring semester and thus weekend games should be easier to come by. Menlo Ultimate is seeking two more games in the fall semester, with at least eight weekend dates in the spring. Menlo Rugby has a few dates lined up before finals, as well as a much larger spring semester if they are able to garner a full roster.

“People are out there because they have fun with it, but the numbers have been increasing since people have heard about the teams,” Pitini mentioned about Menlo Rugby. Pitini is one of few who has the time to play on both teams. “The ability to have fun with it helped create these teams. We may have been unprepared when we first started, but that experience of playing in a few tournaments helped move us forward and give us an idea of what to expect. We got better and better with each game.”

The success of these two club sports should give rise to other potential club sports for Menlo. The student body has responded well to these first two being created, and gear for these clubs are worn across campus. Whether club sports become anything more is unknown, but the opportunities are there for Menlo to create another chance for students to get involved.

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