(photo: Colorado State hopes its team speed will eradicate any disadvantages in size).
The first round of the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference play-ins will occur tomorrow at Chico State, and by Saturday afternoon, the sixth PMRC seed will be named.
The day starts off with Colorado State (PMRC East #3) v UC Davis (North #3). Both teams finished in similar positions relative to their conferences. CSU was well off of East leader BYU but close to second-place team Colorado; UC Davis allowed 72 points to 5 against North winner Stanford, but played North #2 Cal to a 20-point loss.
But it’s difficult to gauge what kind of team CSU will bring to Chico, Calif. The East’s season ended in the fall, and inclement weather prevents a major run-up to playoffs. The team did, however, defeat Air Force 26-13 a month ago and recently topped CU 19-10 in a scrimmage.
“Since the start of the spring, we have ben prepping for the PMRC playoffs this weekend,” CSU coach Jenna Middleton said. “The team has been working really hard on their defensive attack, since that was an area we were lacking in the fall. We had to restructure some positions due to injured players, but we are confident after this past win against CU that we’re making the right moves.”
Middleton indicated that CSU has little intel on the teams competing in Chico, other than UC Davis’ sizable pack. CSU tends to be on the smaller side, but Middleton believes the team’s fitness and mobility will more than compensate for the size difference.
The winner of the first semifinal will face the victor of Chico State (PMRC North #4) v UC Santa Barbara (PMRC South #2). The latter surprised the PMRC South by beating out UC San Diego – a 2011 DI national participant – for the second seed in the region.
“We expect this weekend to be a huge challenge and have been building for this all season,” UC Santa Barbara coach Kevin Battle said. “We are not that familiar with the teams we will be playing, but we know they will be physical and very well organized.”
In order to pull off the win against Chico State, Battle stated that the team must come through on solid set pieces and be near-flawless with ball retention.
“We feel confident in our defense to get the job done,” Battle added. “And we will be relying heavily on our bench to see us through 160 minutes of rugby in the span of 24 hours.”
UC Santa Barbara happily welcomed back Emily Arenchild and Jessica Pelayo from injury, and their additions will add some experience and pace to the backline.
For Chico State, the key is consistency. The young squad has eight rookies in its starting line, and that poses some problems as the competition improves.
“We can still field a strong side,” Chico coach Alex Triantafyllou said. “We have the talent and athleticism, but lack an overall understanding of our pattern. If we can stick to the script for 80 minutes, then we should fare well.”
Unfortunately for Chico, the team didn’t have much time to continue solidifying its gameplan after the regular season ended, as wet weather precluded extra game time during spring break.
Instead, Chico will have to rely on the leadership of forwards Mackenzie McManus and Bryt Felder-Brown, and back Kylie Hahn to pull the team through. Triantafyllou is also excited to see young players Natalie Oelsner and Joel Cabasa on this post-season stage, as they have proved pleasant surprises thus far.
“We believe we have a good chance of taking the weekend,” Triantafyllou said.
The final and consolation matches will occur on Saturday, and the team that goes 2-0 will be the PMRC’s sixth seed to nationals. Saturday’s victor will play Stanford in Stanford during the first round of nationals.