The DI-AA men’s college semifinal between Central Florida and Dartmouth is a study in contrasts.
UCF is a classic club team – hard-working, under-funded, squeezing in finals around rugby games.
Thursday evening they had just finished raising the final few dollars to travel to Bowling Green and play in the final four. Some players were coming out of exams to do so.
Meanwhile Dartmouth, while still a club team made up of players who have to balance tough classwork and playing rugby at a high level, are better funded, have a full-time coach, and are a big deal on campus.
They will face off against each other this weekend.
“We feel good going into this,” said UCF club president Jason Ross. “We’re not worried about any of the teams we play. We can’t worry about that or school or money. We just go out and play our game.”
Central Florida have won by being very physical. They have a number of big, strong athletes who can also run. They are not afraid to impose their will on a game.
“We have guys with size, but the forwards can also move,” said Ross. “As a team we’ve come together in all aspects of this season. We’re a strong unit, and we play like it.”
Meanwhile Dartmouth has found themselves sometimes hoping for a bit of magic. They were pushed very hard by Pitt (42-34) and St. Bonaventure (30-22), but eked it out both times.
Central to their effort has been sophomore Madison Hughes, who kicked ten points in the quarterfinal win over Bonnies. He’s a superb runner and kicker, but, said Head Coach Gavin Hickie, not the only player playing well.
“A lot of our seniors are getting ready for their final weekend of 15s rugby, and they’ve done really well,” Hickie said. “Quinn Connell has stepped in as captain after Michael Burbank couldn’t play. Justin Ciambella has scored some clutch tries for us. Someone like Owen Scannell, who isn’t always a starter but is the guy getting kids to training, supporting the club, is huge.”
Front-row seniors Matt Robinson and Lawrence Anfo-Whyte, and senior forwards Shea Smith and Simon Greenberg are also in for a big weekend, while senior center Garrett Wymore plays his final weekend, as well.
These two teams match up in interesting ways. For the most part, Dartmouth has to be considered to be faster, fitter, and with a stronger kicking game. UCF has to be thought of as bigger, and more physical, and a team with nothing to lose.
Dartmouth is not a surprise team in these semifinals, while UCF is. UCF would love to keep surprising people.