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DIAA Playoffs - West Bracket

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DIAA Playoffs - West Bracket

Gand Canyon makes the national playoffs in only the programs third season. J. Dalton Photography.

The West Bracket of the Men's DIAA College Spring playoffs (we know, catchy) kicks off in Bellingham, Wash. this weekend with a team that's been there, done that, two teams that have been knocking on the door for a while, and one new arrival.

Been there, done that, is, of course, UC Davis. The Aggies have won two straight DIAA national titles, and while they were upended March 25 by Chico State, they garnered revenge this past Sunday in winning the Pacific Western Conference once more. The key for Davis has been a commitment to the cause. More than any one player, the Aggies have taught themselves how to win at crunch time. They don't give up on plays, they don't get angry at each other if things aren't going right, and they know what pressure rugby is like.

Yes, they lost a game this year, but they are in very good shape to return to the final.

Cal State Long Beach didn't expect to be in this situation. They seemed to be in a rebuilding year this season, But it's worth point out that their two conference losses this season came by a total of six points. Led by one of the best halfbacks in the country, Roland Blackiston, Long Beach State ended the conference season on a role, and reeled off wins over Azusa Pacific and San Diego, and then Dixie State in a play-in, to get here. They are not favored agains t UC Davis, but can't be underestimated.

Western Washington hosts Grand Canyon. WWU has come close to DIAA glory before, but this season may have been their most consistently strong one yet. 

Head Coach Paul Horne said his team is healthy and ready to go after rolling through the NCRC. And they are nicely-positioned to succeed in a two-game weekend playoff.

"We have more depth that any time [in the last five years]," said Horne, who started coaching with Adam Roberts then. "Our preparation has been good. Playing in the Fall with the BC teams has been a big factor in our development as a team. The team is experienced and are playing with confidence. We have good size in the pack and better than average speed in the backs. Our back three have played well this season."

As a result, WWU can defend well and score big.

"The biggest concern may be how our defense will hold up the against the speed of the GCU backs," said Horne.

Ah yes, those Grand Canyon backs.

In only in third season of existence, the Arizona-based Grand Canyon University rugby program is in the national playoffs.

“We expect Western Washington to be extremely fast and physical,” said GCU Head Coach Cam Wyper.  “And we know that both UC-Davis and Cal State Long Beach are very dangerous opponents – Long Beach proved it last week by dominating the play-in match versus Utah winner, Dixie State.”

GCU Rugby enters the playoff weekend with two weeks of rest after defeating a visiting Notre Dame Fighting Irish team 42-26 at GCU.  GCU is also coming off an undefeated Gold Coast Conference schedule that included a win over three-time defending Gold Coast champion Cal State Long Beach 31-28.  

GCU is buoyed by a healthy and intact backline for the virtually the first time all season.  Former High School All-American scrumhalf Austin Taefu finally resumes his normal duties at scrumhalf as Junior All-American Brendon Curle returns flyhalf.  Joined by co-captain and Men’s Junior All-American Darien Pickett at inside center, the Antelopes inside backs look to be formidable. At outside center, the trio is joined by slashing runner Maceo Brown, the Gold Coast Conference’s top try-scorer this season. Defensively, the backline is anchored by tough tackling wing Josh Ransom, also a former High School All-American.

The GCU forwards are led up front by 275-pound props Lincoln Sii and Joe Kooiman.  Kooiman, who will be playing in his hometown of Bellingham, has provided a needed force at tighthead prop after GCU lost Men’s Junior All-American co-captain Nick Kwasnieski to an ACL injury in pre-season touch.  Freshman Roddy Hamilton, from last year’s high school club national champion Granite Bay, has been a steady performer at lock.  The Antelopes back row has also provided solid support and carries all season.

This is an exciting team, but so is Western Washington. This will be a pick 'em game for sure.

Sunday will see the winners play off for a spot in the spring final. The winner of the spring final will then take on Notre Dame College in the matchup between the fall winner and the spring winner.