By Eric Edholm, Shutdown Corner

The process of making football safer is a slow trickle.

Do you start at the top and try to make NFL players play more safely, and thus give younger players the model of how to tackle more safely? Or do you start with youth football and try to make it safer for the next generation?


A great chicken-or-egg debate.

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has been an innovator, willing to swim upstream on the matter, and has been railing for years about the need to implement the “rugby tackle” into college and NFL football. Clearly, performance hasn’t been sacrificed with Carroll’s teams, which have used it — the Seahawks are one of the best tackling teams in the NFL, just as his former USC teams were when he coached there.

But Hall of Famer and Oakland Raiders DB coach Rod Woodson believes help is needed on the other end, too. Yes, he’ll be coaching a revamped Raiders secondary that two years ago was a major liability and now might be a very solid group. But he also will be spending time in the offseason, starting Friday, helping out middle school and high school players proper football form and technique on the Pro Football Hall of Fame campus in Canton, Ohio.

Woodson is joining the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy, a four-day symposium and demonstration this summer aimed at teaching young players how to better train and prepare for football, testing their reaction skills, and also emphasizing character development. But safety and proper tackling technique is also one of the primary areas of concentration in the program.

Woodson believes in the rugby tackle, which aims at getting low, leading with the shoulder and putting the tackler’s head behind the ballcarrier. It will be a big part of the focus at the academy, and given the current climate of the game, which has a far more raised awareness of concussions and the dangers of head trauma, this could be a very important lesson to instill early on. They’ll be bringing in actual rugby players to demonstrate how they tackle, which often is far different than how football players try to.

bathvleicestertigersguinnesspremiershipe-cz9pvfnfcl“When your head is in front of the ball, a lot of the time what happens it that his head and your head collide,” Woodson told Shutdown Corner by phone. “When [the students] see the rugby players tackle — and do so without helmets, without pads — and not get nearly the number of concussions that NFL players get, I think it will be beneficial.

“It’s important for them, but it’s also important for the NFL. It can enhance our game and make it a lot safer.”

And it’s no different than what Woodson said he’ll be teaching his Raiders team. Just because they’re professionals doesn’t mean they can’t learn a better way, Woodson said, and so when the Raiders start OTAs at the end of the month he’ll carry over some of the same things he and the other instructors will be teaching at the academy to Raiders first-round safety Karl Joseph, for instancts, along with the rest of his players.

Safety just one part of the academy, of course. It’s a full-scale instruction of the game, and Woodson said that cutting-egde reactionary testing will be implemented to help speed up young players’ brains to diagnose what’s happening in front of them and react naturally and more quickly.

“My role is to inspire the young kids and give them the instruction, discipline and knowledge they need to be football players,” he said. “But we’re also teaching them standardized combine testing, proper technique and we’re using the latest technology — things I wish I had when I was playing — to give them that extra edge.”

But without that safety knowledge, we could be heading into a generation of more frequent concussions and fewer young players who are allowed to play by their parents. By starting early with the safer tackling form, young players have a chance to make it second nature rather than having to unlearn bad or more dangerous technique later.

“We can help them, and this is what we’re doing this for,” Woodson said, “by showing them the right way to do things early on.”

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

By Sanjay Kirpalani , National Recruiting Analyst

 Credit: Student Sports 4-Star DT Jay Tufele was one of four defensive lineman at The Opening Oakland Regional last weekend to earn an invitation to The Opening.

Credit: Student Sports
4-Star DT Jay Tufele was one of four defensive lineman at The Opening Oakland Regional last weekend to earn an invitation to The Opening.

EL SOBRANTE, Calif. — There isn’t an ounce of hesitation for 4-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele when queried on a career path outside of football.

The 6’3”, 288-pounder from Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah, is clearly a fan of physical contact.

“If I wasn’t playing football, I’d be playing rugby right now,” Tufele told Bleacher Report. “I’d be trying to go pro in rugby. I love that sport. I’ve been playing since I was in seventh grade.”

A handful of offensive lineman at The Opening Oakland Regional last weekend are probably wishing he would make that switch permanently.

The nation’s No. 4 defensive tackle and the No. 59 player overall in the 2017 class was a menacing force all day long.

According to Tufele, his performance—which concluded with an invite to The Opening—validated any questions about his standing as one of the premier defensive linemen in the 2017 cycle.

“It feels amazing [to get that invite],” he said. “It’s like a weight off my back, and it feels great to accomplish this. I showed them that I can really play. Everyone has been wondering about it, but I just came out and showed that I can be a dominant player. I just showed that I can match up with everyone else in terms of skill and athleticism.”

With more than 20 offers to his credit, up next on his agenda is to sort out the main players in his recruitment.

“I haven’t really gotten around that much. The last visit I took was when I went to California to see USC and UCLA. That was two or three months ago,” Tufele said.

However, he does have a few trips in mind he would like to make before the upcoming season.

“Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and I want to visit Washington in the summer,” Tufele said. “Ohio State and Michigan have been coming at me really hard. Utah is always there too. They are around everyday. There’s a few more schools.”

In particular, one head coach at one of those programs has wasted little time in making a positive impression on him—even though he admits he was slightly intimidated when initially speaking with him.

“I’d say [Buckeyes head coach] Urban Meyer. He’s a really good guy,” Tufele said. “I used to be scared in talking to him. But he’s been awesome to talk to. He’s a great guy.”

The big man from the Beehive State reports a 3.3 GPA. Although he doesn’t have a major sorted out yet, he’s currently interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.

While he does have a few visits and programs on his mind, he’s in no hurry to make a decision—which he said could come on national signing day for now.

When it does come time to make the final call, a few factors will be critical in helping him arrive to that conclusion.

“I just want know if I can make an impact right away,” Tufele said. “The atmosphere of the school and how the players get along with the coaches will be important. I want it to feel like a family wherever I go.”

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

By Director of Rugby Dominic Riebli 

In their final game of the regular season, the USC Men’s Rugby Club traveled to Las Vegas, host city to the American leg of the IRB 7s Series, to take on a Grand Canyon University.  Although they had already secured a playoff spot in the Gold Coast Conference, the Trojans needed to achieve at least a double bonus point loss (score four or more tries and keep the margin of defeat to within seven points) in order to maintain their hold on a first or second place finish and a home playoff match.  USC achieved their goal and then some; coming back from 21 points down to win 32-31 on a penalty kick in the 77th minute.

 With both teams playing in a foreign environment, USC and GCU spent the first 10 minutes of the match feeling each other out and playing for field position.  Sophomore Flyhalf Adam Bushell’s penalty kick in the 13th minute gave the Trojans an early 3-0 lead.  Unfortunately for USC, that represented their only score for the half as things went from bad to worse for the home side.  The Trojans frequently found themselves on the wrong end of the referee’s whistle as Freshman Hooker Oliver Daabo received a yellow card for a swinging arm tackle and Freshman Prop Kian Azizirad got pinged several times for pulling down the scrum.  Playing a man-up, Grand Canyon’s sizable pack battered away at the gain line and made several meters after contact.  They received their just rewards with tries at the 21st and 30th minutes. 3-12 Antelopes.


USC looked to respond 5 minutes later as the forwards set-up a driving maul from a lineout inside the attacking 22.  After the maul collapsed near the goal line, Hooker Daabo picked the ball up from the tackle area and attempted to sneak in on the short side.  However, the Xavier High School product knocked-on before touching down, thus giving GCU a scrum on their five meter line.  After a couple of possession exchanges on the Antelopes half of the field, GCU had another scrum inside their own 22.  Instead of kicking out of their own end, as they had done on the previous sequence, Flyhalf Ben Pensyl passed to Center Ryan Canino.  This caught USC off-guard and their defensive line did not attack in unison, thus creating a gap for the Antelopes to exploit.  Canino burst through the midfield and had a lot of space to run.  Trojan Sophomore Fullback Mitch Suzuki’s cover tackle proved futile as Canino offloaded to Wing Dru Pelter, who took it the rest of the way for a coast-to-coast try.  With the conversion the Antelopes increased their lead to 16 points.  USC tried to strike back before halftime but an errant pass from Junior 8-man Corbin Bennett went bouncing around the midfield.  Canino picked up the loose ball and scored in the corner.  24-3 in favor of the Antelopes.

 “We played poorly in that first half; very uninspired,” said USC Head Coach Loa Milford.  “My speech was pretty simple: I urged the boys to up the tempo in the second half as it was the only way we could get back in the game.  We had so much riding on the outcome of the game (a home playoff match) so it’s not like I needed to remind them.  I wouldn’t say that we needed to dig deep and find something extra, we just needed to play with more urgency.”


 And play with urgency, they did.  From the opening kick, Freshman Flanker Michael Cesar took the game over and made line break after line break.  The first came from a turnover near the halfway line.  Cesar dashed through the Antelopes pack and sprinted for the posts.  GCU Center Canino attempted to make a try-saving tackle but came in too high.  Referee Holmquist awarded USC a penalty try and Canino a yellow card.  With the Bushell conversion, USC trailed 10-24.

 Minutes later, Cesar made another break from deep inside USC territory and got dragged down near the halfway line.  With GCU scrambling back to cover defensively, the Trojans needed a quick recycle to continue the momentum and potentially pull themselves back into the game.  Unfortunately, Junior Scrumhalf Guido Scassellati attempted a probing run across the midfield, which delayed his offload to his oncoming teammates.  GCU Winger Pelter stepped into the passing lane, intercepted the ball, and scored an easy try against the run of play.  Pensyl kicked the conversion and put the Antelopes back on top 31-10.

 “That play should have crushed us,” said Milford.  “We finally started getting some momentum and looked like we were going to get to within 7; then their winger swept in and gave us a dagger.  That was literally a 14 point swing.”


Seemingly undeterred, the Trojans answered back with a converted try from Freshman Center Dmitry Veremeenko.  Cesar then tallied his second score in the 60th minute.  With the conversion, USC found themselves 7 points down with a quarter to play.  They still needed to score another try and keep Grand Canyon from scoring if they hoped to hold onto a top spot in the league.

The teams both had scores go begging in the next 10 minutes as goal line defense beat goal line offense.  Veremeenko finally dotted down in the corner at the 70 minute mark to give his team the much needed bonus point try.  Unfortunately, Bushell missed the extremely important yet extremely difficult conversion, leaving USC down 29-31 with less than 10 minutes to play.  A converted try from GCU meant a certain victory and a second place finish for the Antelopes.

Salvation came in the 77th minute as a Grand Canyon were penalized for offside on their own 22-meter line.  Keenly aware of the situation, Milford directed Bushell to kick for points.  A converted kick would give USC the lead but, more importantly, would almost definitely secure the second bonus point.  Bushell’s kick literally squeaked inside the crossbar as it glanced off the upright and through.  The penalty gave the Trojans a 32-31 lead, their first since the beginning stages of the match.  GCU had a chance to snatch the victory back but a knock-on at fulltime ended the affair.

 With the win, USC moved to first place in the Gold Coast Conference with a game in hand over undefeated Long Beach State.  Should LBSU falter in their match against Santa Barbara City College, the Trojans would win the regular season.


“It’s quite an accomplishment to go from an ‘also ran’ last year to competing for a regular season title,” said Milford.  “We obviously still have business to tend to and have yet to play our best rugby, but I’m happy for the guys right now.  When that whistle blew, you could tell that they’d given everything they had.  It made me proud.”

USC awaits final results and standings over the next couple of weeks that will determine their playoff opponent.  The only certainty for the Trojans is that they will host a playoff match for the first time in many, many years.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]goffrugbyreport-logoCongratulations to Freshman Center Dima Veremeenko for being selected for Goff Rugby Report’s list of D1 College Gamebreakers![/vc_column_text][us_btn text=”Gamebreakers – DI College Men” link=”||target:%20_blank”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

By Adam Bushell 

The USC Men’s Rugby Club travel to Las Vegas this weekend to compete in their last match of the regular season against Grand Canyon University. The Trojans secured a playoff spot after a victory against Santa Barbara City College two weekends ago. A win will put the Trojans in a highly advantageous position going into their playoff run, securing second place with the possibility of moving up to first, and a home-field advantage for their first playoff game. The coaching staff has made clear that the only objective is to come away with a win. Getting the victory will be no easy feat, however. USC experienced the might of GCU at last year’s Rugby Bowl, an exhibition match held in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Trojans fell heavily. With a chip on their shoulder the USC side are looking for redemption to cap off their most successful regular season in years. Director of Rugby Dominic Riebli commented, “This is an important test for us. Can we go on the road, into a foreign environment with lots of distractions, and keep our poise and focus? It’s going to take 80 minutes of commitment to see us through.” 


Here are some key points leading into the match:

Players to watch for…

Dima Veremeenko: Freshman Veremeenko has scored in four out of five games this season. The explosiveness of Russian Center has been difficult to for opposition back lines to handle and has proved deadly on many occasions.

Michael Cesar: The Openside Flanker has a level of experience that few can match, having played for the highly renowned rugby school in England, St. Pauls. He has the tenacity of a flanker but the ball skills of a back; a double threat to say the least.


How the table stands…

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If the Trojans manage to come away with a victory on Saturday, second place will be secured with the possibility of a first place finish if Cal State Long Beach slip up against Santa Barbara City College. However, in the event of a loss for the Trojans, conceding three or less tries will still secure second place on the basis of point differential. If the Trojans concede four or more tries and go on to lose the match without having scored four tries themselves, GCU will go one point ahead in the standings, putting USC back to third place.

“GCU have had a very uneven season thus far. They lost to USD then came from behind to take SBCC. LBSU beat them soundly a couple weeks back but they responded last weekend by doubling up Fullerton. Reports are that they have a sizeable pack and have skill position players returning from injury. They are a good, young team.” said Riebli. 

If you are in Las Vegas this weekend, come out and support the men as they go into what will be their most important matchup yet.

Address: Field #17 at the Silver Bowl Fields, 7000 E Russell Road, Las Vegas, NV 89122.

The USC Men’s Rugby Club competed in their fifth match of the season this past Saturday against Santa Barbara City College. The Trojans recognized the importance of the match as a win would secure a spot in the playoffs.

SBCC kicked off and USC took to the opening minutes with high intensity, keeping the majority of play in Vaqueros’ territory. The opening try of the match came seven minutes in as SBCC were under great pressure deep inside of their 22. The SBCC Scrum-Half threw a sloppy pass to no one that USC Fly-Half Adam Bushell was able to dive on behind the try line. The conversion was made putting the score at 7-0.

The Trojans kept the offensive pressure high over the next ten minutes as the forwards drove the ball into Vaquero territory once more. A half break that was stopped just before the try line, but Prop Luis Lopez picked the ball before the SBCC defense could reset, forcing the ball over the line for a try. The conversion was made and the score was now 14-0 nineteen minutes in.


Momentum slowed for the Trojans as SBCC picked up the pace of their offensive game, running USC from sideline to sideline. The fast ball movement of the SBCC backs proved too difficult to handle on several occasions, allowing for several SBCC line breaks along the sideline and three unanswered tries to be scored before the close of the first half. The score at the half time whistle stood at 19-14 in favor of SBCC.

After a sturdy half time talk from the coaches the Trojans knew to be mentally prepared for a fight in the second half. The USC backs adopted a more direct style of play. Centers Joey Krassenstein and Dima Veremeenko hammered the ball across the gain line and made several line breaks down the middle of the pitch. On one occasion Veremeenko broke through the SBCC defensive line, brushing off several players before running it in for a try. The conversion was good.

The Trojans earned themselves an even greater lead when Scrum Half Jeff Cohen scored a try that was unconverted, putting the score at 26-19. Flanker Michael Cesar joined in on the action ten minutes later with a try of his own. This time the conversion was successful and at sixty minutes the score was 33-19.


With ten minutes left the Trojans were awarded a penalty due to the SBCC ill-discipline in their own half. Bushell put another three points on the board.

At seventy-five minutes SBCC managed to get a try back to come within twelve points of USC, but were unable to form a comeback in time. Final score: 36-24. The Trojans came away with a critical victory and for the first time in years have earned a spot in the playoffs.


The team have next weekend off and will face Grand Canyon University is Las Vegas on the 5th of March.

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02.21.2016 – Alex Goff

Cal State Long Beach sits clear atop the Gold Coast after an impressive 72-12 defeat of Grand Canyon University Saturday.

GCU was hit with some injuries but still fielded a big, powerful forward pack. Battling the heat of an Arizona February afternoon the Long Beach 49ers worked the ball wide as much as possible, and the tactic worked nicely.

“I was worried going into this game,” said CSULB Coach Jason Reynolds. “We had never seen them play before and they were huge. Our pack is usually small, but we held our own, did well in the scrums and didn’t have any problems in the lineouts. Our maul was good. But we knew we had to play away from those forwards in open play, and that’s what we did.”


A well-conditioned 49ers team enjoyed another very good game from their halfback combination of Roland Blackiston and Steven Bodley. Reynolds is very high on Blackiston, an aggressive and intelligent scrumhalf, while Bodley kicked extremely well, often nailing conversions from the touchline. The pair accounted for all 19 of the 49ers first 19 points; Blackiston scored four tries on the day, and Bodley scored two and kicked another 22 points.

No. 8 Jerell Abellera-Neri, wing Anthony James, each scores tries and fullback Devon Stone added two.

Meanwhile, the resurgent USC team continued to play well, and logged an impressive 36-24 win over Santa Barbara City College, moving to 4-1 and securing a place in the Gold Coast Conference’s playoffs. Flyhalf Adam Bushell scored a try and his kicking accounted for another 11 points, while prop Luis Lopez, center Dimitriy Veremeenko, scrumhalf Jeffrey Cohen, and flanker Michael Cesar all scored. Tries from Bushell and Lopez staked the Trojens to a 14-0 lead, but SBCC came storming back, showing some of that flair that has seen them win so many games in the past. Three tries from SBCC put them up 19-14 at the break.

But Veremeenko’s try tied the game and Bushell’s conversion put the Trojans ahead to stay. Two more USC tries and a penalty from Bushell sealed it at 36-19 before SBCC scored another late.

Cal State Fullerton slammed UC Irvine 69-19 to record their first win of the league season and put them in the conversation for a playoff bid. CSULB and USC are in the semis, with SBCC 0-3 but mathematically still eligible. But Irvine can’t make it. But the fight for the final two playoff spots are likely between GCU (2-2), San Diego (2-1), and Fullerton (1-2).

Santa Barbara plays Irvine next week and should win that game. Then, a March 12 meeting with Long Beach State carries much importance. The key game is likely going to be Grand Canyon v USC on March 5.


2015-2016 Regular Season Standings

By Adam Bushell

The USC Men’s Rugby Club traveled south to the home field of Los Angeles Rugby Club for a “home” game against Cal State University Fullerton in week four of league play. With the expectations the coaches set for the Club, the Trojans know the importance of each match; the Fullerton game was no different. USC looked to maintain the momentum they had built from the prior week’s victory over a strong University of San Diego side.


In the opening minutes, the majority of play kept Fullerton in their half. USC Center Joey Krassenstein positioned the team nicely from a penalty kick, allowing for a driving maul straight off the lineout. Having moved the maul steps from the try line, Club President Jonny So peeled off the side and scored his first for the team. The conversion veered wide. 5-0 to USC six minutes in.

For the next fifteen minutes, possession flipped back and forth via handling errors and turnovers in contact.Fullerton opted to keep USC in their own half by sending multiple kicks deep into Trojan territory. The back three – comprised of Mitch Suzuki, Jeff Cohen, and Connor Patenaude – dealt with several high balls and heavy pressure from an aggressive Fullerton defense.

The Trojans scored their second try when a Fullerton clearance kick went astray and Krassenstein collected, stepped through a scattered defense, and touched down in the corner. The conversion went wide again. 10-0 in favor of USC.


Minutes before the half, USC put on an technical display of rugby when Suzuki collected a high ball and sent it through the hands of Flanker Michael Cesar and Center Dima Veremeenko to allow Krassenstein to draw the last defender and feed it straight to Winger Jeff Cohen who scored his debut try for the club. The conversion was successful and the half ended with a score of 17-0.

In the second half, Fullerton came out with much greater aggression and scored their first of the game when their backs moved the ball out wide inside USC’s 22, being stopped just before the try line. It was then picked up and driven over the line before the USC defense could reset. The conversion missed and the score was now 17-5 at 46 minutes.

The Trojans regained momentum when Krassenstein got his second of the game after Cesar fed him a perfect pass close to the touch line. The conversion was good, putting the score at 24-5.


Moments later the Trojans found themselves deep in attacking territory and were benefactors of a Fullerton penalty. Halfback Guido Scassellati quick tapped and kicked cross-field to Patenaude, who displayed great skill in receiving the ball, avoiding the touchline, and running it in for the try. The conversion was good. 31-5 to USC.

In the closing minutes, Fullerton hammered the ball deep into Trojan territory, forcing USC to defend on their goal line. With tired bodies after 80 minutes of rugby, CSUF broke through the USC defense and got their second try of the match. Final score: 31-10.

The Trojans marked their third win of the Spring and yet another step towards an impactful season in the Gold Coast Conference. Next weekend USC goes up against Santa Barbara City College at the Santa Monica Rugby Club at 1pm.


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Saturday saw the University of Southern California Men’s Rugby team travel to San Diego to face University of San Diego Toreros for an important match that had Gold Coast Conference playoff implications. The Trojans made the necessary adjustments in the week leading up to the match, identifying USD’s strengths and aiming to counter them.

The two and a half hour bus ride risked leaving the Trojans lethargic and heavy footed upon the opening whistle. However, from the kickoff USC hit the ground running, dominating the majority of play and working to keep the ball in USD’s half. Trojan Flyhalf Adam Bushell kept the Toreros pinned in their own half for the opening fifteen minutes until USC capitalized on a mistake in the attacking zone. An errant USC pass landed nicely into Bushell’s arms, allowing him to fall over the line for the opening try of the game. The Flyhalf converted his own score, 7-0 USC.


The teams consistently swapped possession for another fifteen minutes until USD conceded a penalty inside their half. Bushell stepped-up and nailed the kick. 10-0 USC.

Minutes later, Center Joey Krassenstein made a half-break a threw a perfectly timed offload to Bushell. Unfortunately, he couldn’t collect the pass. The ball went to ground and a pacey USD Center took it the other way. The Trojans scrambled to recover and brought the man down, but not before he found 8-man Cameron Guirguis for a try against the run-of-play. USD’s Flyhalf Avery Vandenberg easily converted; 10-7 USC after 40 minutes of play.

USD carried the momentum into the 2nd half with Vandenberg bookending his unconverted try with two penalty kicks. The Trojans complicated matters during that interval when Lock DeMarco Scavuzzo received a yellow card for diving over the ball. Having already conceded one try and a penalty, USC had their back against their goal line a second time. Although they ultimately conceded a penalty kick, the resoluteness of the Trojan defense gave them a boost of confidence heading into the final quarter 10-18 USD with 12 minutes left in the game.

From the restart, the Trojans started an unforeseen comeback when Center Dimitry Veremeenko’s fantastic individual effort lead to several broken tackles and a try out of virtually nothing. Bushell missed the conversion. 15-18 USD. Four minutes later, the Trojans recaptured the lead when Halfback Guido Scassellati dummied, fended off a defender, and scored in the corner. Bushell’s kick went wide again. 20-18 USC. In the 77th minute and inside the attacking twenty-two, Veremeenko struck again by making a half-break and offloading to Flyhalf Bushell for his second of the day. The conversion went astray again, keeping USD within reach of a try at 25-18. However, Flanker Michael Cesar sealed things up when, from a Torero scrum, the ball went flying out the back and eventually into his arms. Krassenstein missed the convert, bringing the final score to 30-18 in favor of USC.

Trojans Captain Corbin Bennett commented, “No one expects us to win or to perform at the level we have thus far. Our team has embraced the underdog status and we all love playing with that chip on our shoulder. While we will enjoy this victory as it does attest to how far our program has come, we still have a long season ahead of us and still have many things to improve upon. We truly would not be where we are without the sacrifice our coaches and their families continue to make.”

This Saturday, February 13th at 10:30am, USC goes up against CSU Fullerton at Dodson Middle School in Palos Verdes.

Photos from the match

Match Running Score

Current Standings