Top-ranked DII college men’s team UW-Whitewater puts its undefeated record on the line this weekend in the Midwest final four.
They take on #9 St. John’s for the right to play the winner of #25 Michigan State and unranked Grand Valley State. Looking at the rankings, you might think UW-Whitewater is heavily favored. They are, but that doesn’t make coach Pat O’Connor any more relaxed.
“We’ve been playing well,” O’Connor said. “I’m happy the folks are healthy. In DII college the Midwest is a top bracket, and Wisconsin is a tough league. All these teams left are tough but the guys have been through a lot.”
O’Connor doesn’t get too flashy with his club. He gets the players to work on their core skills, their fitness, their scrums and their lineouts.
He is proud of how many players have stayed in rugby as players or coaches.
“I’ve been with this program since 1993,” he said. “We’ve had All Americans, and guys on select teams and men’s clubs. Guys coaching high school and college. It’s good to keep them involved.”
That’s long-term stuff. For this weekend, staying involved and clued in is important, too.
“The mental side of it is key,” said O’Connor. “The team that comes in and remembers how they got here and believe that they belong here will do well. I need you guys to be able to think out there , and we do that by encouraging them to work hard and also to make decisions. From the opening whistle, they need to be ready to play Warhawk rugby.”
Whitewater has dominated their league. In their five league games and two playoff games so far, the Warhawks have scored 374 points (53 per game) and allowed 57 (8 per game).
“We’ve been scoring all over the field – our front row, back row, all through the backs, which I like,” said O’Connor. “One of our strengths is that we don’t rely on one or two players to carry us. As a result we can go through these two-game weekends and sub in players and still play well.”