The Empire Conference championships will be decided Saturday and Sunday at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.
The hosts, which finished second in the Empire’s East Division, draw St. Bonaventure, tops in the West Division, in one semifinal. East winner Stony Brook plays West runner-up Binghamton in the other semifinal.
These teams, though in the same conference, don’t have a lot of history playing each other. Iona and St. Bonaventure haven’t met in the 11 years coach Clarence Picard has been involved in St. Bonaventure rugby. But, he’s done some homework on his opponents and respects their track record.
“Winning’s winning, so it sounds like they’re on a good track. As far as their style of play, we only know them a little bit by reputation,” said Picard.
“We know a few of their players just through different high school connections, so we know where a few of their strengths are. We know they’re somewhat geared towards the backline, but beyond that, we’re just kind of focusing on making sure we know we’re ready for everything.”
In the other semifinal, Stony Brook would appear to be the favorite, having won its division. The Seawolves recently played and beat St. Joe’s out of the Eastern Penn league, but haven’t been very active this spring against DI-AA competition otherwise.
Coach Jerry Mirro says that won’t be a problem.
“St. Joe’s was a good test. I’ll give them credit. They were tough. That’s what we needed, and we came out of it totally healthy. We’ve got no excuses this weekend,” said Mirro.
“Our practices are pretty intense. We’ve got to have 60-65 guys at practice. I’ve got guys pushing pretty hard, so when we go scrimmages at practice, I’ve got to call them off after 15-20 minutes, because these guys are killing each other. I think we’re ready.”
Stony Brook fields a very competitive 7s side, and their back line in 15s is quite potent. On both wings the Seawolves boast top-end speedsters in Michael St. Clair and Eric Otoigiakhi.
The winner of Sunday’s final will advance to the Sweet 16 regional in Hanover, N.H. (Story incorrectly stated the winner would play Shippensburg, but the seeds for the Round of 16 have not yet been determined.)