N. Illinois (with ball) and Loyola represent CARFU this weekend.
The Midwest DII college round of 16 kicks off Saturday in four different locations, with the round of eight to follow on Sunday. The winner of each regional site advances to the Midwest semifinals Nov. 11.
The heaviest favorite to reach the semifinals is UW-Whitewater, defending DII national champion. The Warhawks face Loyola, the second seed out of the Chicago Area RFU, in the round of 16 in Urbana, Ill.
“They’re a good solid team,” said Whitewater coach Pat O’Connor of Loyola, “but I think we’ve got the tools to control the game, at least that’s what we’re going in with.”
How does this year’s Whitewater squad stack up next to the 2011 national championship team?
“I think they compare favorably with last year’s team,” said O’Connor, despite losing six starters to graduation. “Even though we’ve made the changes, the folks who came in are playing at the same level, and we were just talking about it, we feel that we’re a little bit ahead of last year as far as our capabilities.”
Squaring off in the other Urbana game Saturday are Southern Illinois, top seed out of Illinois, and St. Cloud, the second seed out of Minnesota.
In Trafford, Pa., Ohio is one of four teams trying to advance past this weekend. The Bobcats are the top seed out of the Ohio union. They’ve not lost a league game all season, as they sit 4-0-1 after a tie with Xavier. Ohio draws Pitt (Allegheny 1) Saturday, and with a win, the Bobcats will play either Michigan (Michigan 2) or West Virginia (Allegheny 2) Sunday.
Ohio hasn’t played any of these teams in recent memory, but Bobcat coach Willie Griffes isn’t worrying about the unknown.
“I’m much more concerned about my own team,” he said. “We know we’re going to have to play a complete 80 minutes to come out on top against (Pitt)."
Ninth-ranked Northern Illinois headlines the Allendale, Mich. region, in which the Huskies play Grand Valley State (Michigan 3) and Xavier (Ohio 2) plays Central Michigan (Michigan 1) Saturday.
Northern Illinois hasn’t had much in the way of tight games, scoring 106, 87, 85, 72 and 63 points in league play this fall. If the Huskies are going to advance to nationals, they’ll have to do something they haven’t done all season – win a close game late in the second half.
“What makes our team a quality team is the young guys know there’s going to be tougher opponents to face in the playoffs,” said NIU player/coach Ryan Dertinger.
“We’ve been preaching over the last solid month that a good team doesn’t have to win by 100 points, 50 points. A good team will win those one-point games, and that’s the difference. Look at the World Cup. It was a one point game.”
In Rochester, Minn., North Dakota State is the only undefeated team, having won the Minnesota union with a 4-0-1 record. NDSU draws UW-Platteville (Wisconsin 3) Saturday. Also in Rochester are UW-Milwaukee, who pushed Whitewater to a 10-7 halftime score earlier this season, and Illinois State (Illinois 2).
The know and the unknown meet in a mysterious venue as Bentley University of Waltham, Mass. takes on American International College of Springfield.
Both teams are 2-0 in the new Rugby Northeast league – Bentley is an established DII contender, while AIC is still relatively new on the scene. Both teams are also very different in the way they play.
Coming off a big win over St. Michael’s, Bentley Head Coach Josh Smith was pleased to see his team rack up 55 points through nine different try-scorers.
"Our boys really punished St Mikes off mistakes and turnovers, but we are still a work in progress," warned Smith. “AIC is a talented team and they have some money to work with.”
It’s AIC who will want to spread the field and look for a high-scoring match, while Bentley will want to slow things down.
“We will need to use our forwards to control things at the breakdown and make them attack from far out,” said Smithy. “Our guys need to use their experience to control the game.”
The game will be played at AIC’s home field, a multi-purpose turf field and stadium, which is used by all the sports teams. The Yellow Jackets draw more fans for their rugby games than they do for their football team, and Saturday night’s match under the lights promises quite an atmosphere.
“We’re able to use the scoreboard and PA system,” said AIC Head Coach Josh Macy. “We’ll have the national anthem and player introductions. Home rugby matches are big events on campus.”
AIC plays a wide open, run and gun game that uses some impressive pace on the outside. Turnovers and sloppy kicking can turn into five points very quickly for them.
Central for AIC’s attack it their 8-9-10 triumverat of Colin Bartolomeo, Jordan Schmitz (both products of the Glendale, Colo. U19 program) and South African flyhalf Duke Makina.
Makina isn’t a traditional flyhalf, as he’s a big load of a player who thunders through tackles, but he has learned the art of controlling the offense, and has plenty of athleticism to work with.
“We build through the middle and send things through them,” said Macy. “But it’s important that everyone the team gets a touch. Everybody is expected to perform with ball in hand.”
AIC lost 17-16 in a preseason match against DI-AA Harvard in September, and that last-second loss fueled in their opening matches. But this is a true test.
“That Harvard loss was a good learning experience for us,” Macy said. “And we’re always looking for those benchmarks. Bentley will be another one.”
“The atmosphere is going to be great,” added Smith. “They get massive crowds. It can be intimidating for players who aren’t used to it, but we’d talked about it and the guys will be ready.”
Notes: Bentley and AIC may be relative newcomers to the upper-echelon of DII college rugby, but the institutions have been around a long time. AIC was founded in 1885, Bentley in 1917. Both teams have had freshmen jump into starting and starring roles early this season. Currently in Rugby Northeast play, Bentley is 2-0, with a +85, AIC 2-0 and +80.
Videos of Bentley v. St. Michael's and AIC v. Providence.
There are a slew of weight-bearing games in DII this weekend, with a pair of ranked matchups.
The most intriguing pits No. 20 Saint Louis University against second-ranked Lindenwood. The Lions’ score lines indicate they’ve gone untested this season, despite playing a pair of DII men’s clubs and a pair of D1-AA teams.
If SLU, defending West champs, can hold Lindenwood to, say, 40 points, then perhaps a chink will appear in the Lions’ armor.
The other ranked match features Northern Colorado and the Colorado School of the Mines. UNC has owned this matchup lately, and though we at RUGBYMag have caught some flack for ranking Mines, their recent demolition of New Mexico warrants some attention.
The Eastern Rockies have just one bid to the West playoffs, so this match will go a long way in determining either team’s spring.
There are a few games that only become big if an upset happens, like if No. 8 Mary Washington falls to James Madison, Radford is felled by VMI or Utah Valley loses to Idaho State.
The upset most likely to happen? Probably Idaho State over Utah Valley. The Bengals were the only team to knock off the Wolverines last fall, and their talent is usually enough to keep them in most contests. Don’t sleep on James Madison, either.
Every week is a big week capable of an upset or two in New England. NERFU is probably the most competitive league, top to bottom, in the country.
No. 15 Coast Guard, No. 16 Boston and No. 17 URI are all 2-1, and though their opponents, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, respectively, are a combined 2-6, none have a negative point differential of more than 19.
It’s hard to draw any early conclusions about how New England will shake out prior to the actual end of the season.
Slate of games #4 UNC vs. #13 Mines UNM vs. Mesa Holy Cross @ #17 URI #15 Coast Guard @ Maine #16 Boston @ UNH Norwich @ Vermont #14 UNCW vs. Elon Idaho State vs. #5 UVU #8 Mary Washington vs. James Madison #21 Radford vs. VMI UW Stevens Point vs. Marquette #1 UW Whitewater vs. N. Michigan UW Lacrosse vs. #18 UW Milwaukee St. Johns vs. Mankato St. Cloud vs. Winona Minn. Duluth vs. NDSU #20 SLU vs. #2 Lindenwood #7 Towson vs. St. Mary's #22 Georgetown vs. Catholic Hofstra vs. #23 Marist Sacred Heart vs. #25 William Paterson New Paltz vs. Fairfield Vassar vs. Seton Hall
Two weeks ago Logan Theis, a young rugby player with the Whitman University (Walla Walla, Wash.) team, was tragically injured at a post-match social and left paralyzed from the waist down.
Because the injury did not take place during a match or at practice, USA Rugby's insurance program does not cover him. He is now facing some significant financial challenges in addition to his terrible injury.
Referee Clive Kaiser and others in the rugby community in Walla Walla set up a Tax-Exempt 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization for Logan to help with his medical expenses and rehabilitation.
The fund is administered through US Bank and anyone who wants to make a donation can do so in person at any US Bank branch. The details are listed Clive also worked with Whitman Rugby alum Max Rausch to set up an electronic option for anyone who does not want to visit the Bank in person.
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