Sallee, Berry each secure hat-trick in rout
By: Mack Drake/GCU Staff
Through two games of the 2020 season, the Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team has proved it has the tools to win in different ways.
GCU’s defense was the difference in a gritty 13-10 win over California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo two weeks ago in its season opener. Saturday afternoon was all about the offensive attack.
Ronnie Sallee and Chris Berry each scored hat-tricks to lead the Lopes to a 62-17 blasting of the University of California, Santa Barbara Saturday in a California Conference showdown at the GCU Practice Soccer Field.
GCU crossed the try line 10 times in total, using stellar ball handling and spacing to routinely gash the Gauchos. The No. 21-ranked Lopes improved to 2-0, and sit in second place in the California Conference standings behind 3-0 St. Mary’s of California — the No. 4 ranked team in D1A Rugby.
“It really just came down to cleaning up some of the mistakes we made against Cal Poly,” said GCU Head Coach Sean O’Leary. “We looked at the film and we knew we left a number of points on the field against Cal Poly. We cleaned those areas up and it showed today.”
Berry got the Lopes on the board immediately with a try in the first minute of the contest on a nifty assist from Royce Fisher. Sallee muscled his way across the try line eight minutes later to give the Lopes an early 12-0 lead.
“That’s GCU Rugby right there,” Sallee said. “You want to start harder than you finish. I think the early scoring definitely set the tone for the game and gave us a big advantage.”
After the Gauchos responded with a try, CJ Johnston scored on a 20-yard dash before Sallee added two more tries to extend the GCU lead to 29-5 in the 31st minute.
Garrett Bandara sent the Lopes into intermission with a 36-10 lead after scoring with under a minute left in the opening half.
“We came out really strong,” Sallee said. “We talk about playing whistle to whistle, and I thought we did that. We hit them in the mouth right away and kept the ball rolling. It was definitely a team effort.”
GCU continued to pour it on in the second half, scoring quickly out of the break on Berry’s second try of the game. V.J. Leuta later powered his way in before Berry secured his hat-trick, giving GCU a commanding 57-10 lead.
A try from Jake Burns in the 68th minute put the Lopes up 62-10 and capped the GCU scoring outbreak. Fisher added six 2-point conversions in the victory.
“These guys are getting good and starting to really enjoy each other’s company,” O’Leary said. “We focused a lot this week on our scrums, and I thought the improvements showed up nicely today. All I want is to keep getting better every single game. That’s my goal.”
GCU will square off with in-state foe University of Arizona on Friday, Feb. 7 at 6 pm at GCU Stadium in an exciting night of rugby. The GCU Women’s Rugby Team will follow with an 8 pm showdown with the Wildcats, also at GCU Stadium.
The men’s team has lost to Arizona each of the last three years. The Wildcats are slotted 13th in the Division IA rugby power rankings.
“It’s a big game,” Sallee said. “We’ve been playing them every year since the program began. We’ve been getting closer and closer to beating them ever year, so hopefully, this is the golden year for us.”
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