A series of wildfires in central Washington state has badly affected air quality on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains.
Homes and business were threatened by the flames, of course, but the smoke and ash spread even further afield, forcing the evacuation of some areas, and kids to be told to stay home, where it is usually easier to control air quality.
For the Central Washington University’s rugby team, this all made holding a rugby practice very difficult. Breathing normally outside was not recommended; breathing heavily during a sports practice could be seriously damaging.
“We have canceled 14 practices so far,” said CWU 7s Head Coach Tony Pacheco. “We practiced almost entirely in the gym, and I was really concerned how we would be able to translate what we did in the gym to competition.”
He needn’t have worried. Central Washington opened the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference 7s series with four victories – all shutouts. Their B team gave up only seven points in winning the B-side competition.
Playing at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., CWU beat Oregon 40-0, Western Oregon 42-0, Washington State 43-0 in the semis, and Oregon State 40-0 in the final.
“I was really happy to give up zero points,” said Pacheco. “The guys really worked hard on defense and we had some good athletes who made some key plays on cover tackles. We’ve really worked on our defense and it turned out really well.”
Despite the fact that Pacheco says the Northwest collegiate 7s competition is improving, Central is easily the best team in the region and did not look tested despite their less-than-optimal practice schedule. With the air clearing a big in Ellensburg, Wash., they will have more training time to prepare for the next tournament at Washington State University.
CWU should expect Josh Bower and Andrew Nelson to return next week after sitting out due to minor injuries. That makes selections very tough for Pacheco. Shelby Williams was superb on the weekend, showcasing a ton of pace on the wing and scoring virtually any time he got a decent pass and some space.
Bowling Green transfer Max Narewski played well, while USA U20 star Tanner Barnes has taken a big step forward. Barnes can play in the forwards or the backs, and defends well in either area.
“He’s a good player and he’s not only improving, he really wants to improve,” said Pacheco. “He keeps asking for feedback and is really working hard to get better.”
Meanwhile team captain and 7s All American Patrick Blair gleefully did all the grunt work and did it better than anyone.
Still, said Pacheco, “there are a lot of areas where we need to improve.”
With 165 points scored and zero allowed, improvement will be tough to see, even when the skies clear.