Magical Year for Lumberjacks
Two Athletics programs.
Two national championships.
By Aileen S. Yoo
It was a remarkable year for Cal Poly Humboldt Women’s Rowing and Men’s Rugby as both teams brought home national titles in 2022-23.
For Rowing, the achievement marks its third national NCAA title following wins in 2012 and 2014, while Rugby earned its first-ever national championship.
Rowing ended their season at the championship regatta in May with a perfect score. The Jacks swept both grand final events—the Fours and Eights—in New Jersey, dominating opponents including University of Central Oklahoma, Western Washington, and Seattle Pacific.
“This was a special group of student athletes that were self-motivated and determined from the first day of practice in August to their last stroke in May,” says Rowing Head Coach Matt Weise, who was named Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association National Coach of the Year.
“The national title is a celebration of all the hard work we put in during every practice this season. Our coaches pushed us every day to believe in ourselves as much as they believed in us, that we are champions,” says student-athlete Molly Urtz (‘23, Social Work).
Fresh off their national title victory, the team celebrated in style with a visit to the White House for College Athlete Day, which honored the NCAA’s national champions across all divisions and sports. Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, and President of the NCAA Charlie Baker presided over the ceremony.
The national title is a celebration of all the hard work we put in during every practice this season. Our coaches pushed us every day to believe in our-selves as much as they believed in us, that we are champions.
Molly Urtz (‘23, Social Work)
“The championship game was hard-fought but the trust I had in the team to help secure the win never faltered. Trusting in our own capabilities, our coaching, and phase play is why I love this team so much and will forever cherish Humboldt Rugby.”
Jason Atalifo Uipi (‘23, Business Administration)
The Rugby team’s season also ended on a high note. Humboldt went into the 2022 National Collegiate Rugby organization (NCR) Small College National Championship undefeated. The Wayne State College Wildcats of Wayne, Nebraska had the same record as the Jacks, who were relatively unknown and considered underdogs.
The Rugby team made history by earning its first-ever national championship.
“The Rugby coaches, alumni, and family are truly proud of these student athletes and their commitment to excellence, which they have proven over the last few years on this championship journey. What a great honor to represent Cal Poly Humboldt on the national stage,” says Rugby Head Coach Greg Pargee.
“The championship game was hard-fought but the trust I had in the team to help secure the win never faltered. Trusting in our own capabilities, our coaching, and phase play is why I love this team so much and will forever cherish Humboldt Rugby,” says Jason Atalifo Uipi (‘23, Business Administration), who was named Tournament MVP of the Men’s Small College Rugby Championship.
These titles are a testament to a half-century of excellence for both programs.
Rowing began as a club sport in 1974. Twenty years later the team joined the ranks of NCAA DII teams under legendary coach Robin Meiggs, who is recognized as one of the University’s most successful coaches. She served as the program’s head coach for over 25 years until her retirement in 2019.
Her legacy continues through the Robin A. Meiggs Scholarship Fund. Established with a $250,000 gift from Meiggs and her husband Scott Heller, the fund awards scholarships to selected Women’s Rowing athletes. Alumni, boosters, and community members have given an additional $5,000 to the fund.
About one year before Rowing launched, Rugby was born.
The team played in Division I in the USA Rugby Organization for more than 25 years and was among the top teams in the nation. The team, now a club sport, later switched to Division II of USA Rugby and played in the national championship game in 2005. Today it competes in the NCR organization, which encompasses more than 600 colleges and over 15,000 players.
Humboldt Rugby is more than a team. It’s a tight-knit community. Last summer, Assistant Coach Vincent Celotto and rugby alumni and friends raised more than $30,000 to establish the Cal Poly Humboldt Men’s Rugby Scholarship Fund. That fund created the University’s first scholarships for a recreational sport.
Two months after they brought home the Cohen Cup, Senator Mike McGuire invited the team to be recognized on the California Senate floor, where they were joined by coaches and University President Tom Jackson, Jr.
“This amazing team is the pride of California. We couldn’t have been more excited to host the national champs in the Senate today and give them the recognition they deserve,” said McGuire. “This pack of fierce underdogs battled every step of the way to an undefeated season and proved every pundit wrong. This is truly a historic achievement—we’re all Lumberjacks today!”