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In Inaugural Year, Big Rivers Season Starts to Flow

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In Inaugural Year, Big Rivers Season Starts to Flow

Wheeling relishes new structure to their season. Olly Laseinde photo.

The great experiment in NCR is hitting its stride this weekend.

The Big Rivers Conference was created this year to accommodate the new influx of varsity and school-supported teams in men's college rugby. The result was some teams were bumped up from D2 to accomplish this, but that really mainly served to keep D2 more D2.

Two games have been played so far in the six-team conference, with Iowa Central CC beating Marian 34-19 two weekends ago, and Wheeling beating Aquinas 55-24 this past weekend.

Wheeling was hoping for a stern test before that Aquinas game, but Mary Washington had to pull out due to a slew of positive COVID tests a few days before. No game for either team, but the Cardinals still went well against the still-new Aquinas side. It was a back-and-forth game between Wheeling and Aquinas for the first 40, but Wheeling pulled away in the second half. Ayoub Jalli, Krishna Kwenda, and Joe Iye all scored two tries for Wheeling, and Iye added three conversions while Jalli added three more and a penalty goal.

"The guys are really close and team chemistry is strong," said Head Coach Mike Geibel. "We've really taken on the 'full D1 schedule' mentality and have upped the work we're doing in training as well as the other off-field aspects."

Wheeling played basically an independent schedule last year as Geibel has been trying to lead the program back to the days when it was in D1A. The program was in jeopardy at one point, with a revolving door of coaches, but the return to set conference play in the Big Rivers is a  big step for them.

"The team has really taken a more proactive approach to preparing for each week physically, mentally, tactically," added Geibel, who returns much of the same roster from last season, but one that is a year older and wiser.

The loss to ICCC I will take the blame for…I'd say over confident in 18 to 20 year olds. I didn't think it would be a problem only having 2 weeks back to prepare but I was wrong. We ran into some issues with getting everyone cleared with the trainers. So, we ended up only having a handful of practices before we played. Not an excuse maker, we played and lost credit to ICCC but we live and learn!

 

Meanwhile, Marian won convincingly over Purdue last week to rebound somewhat from last loss to Iowa Central.

Head Coach John Hartley put the Iowa Central loss squarely on his shoulders, saying he didn't bring the team together early enough for for the September 3 meeting with the Tritons.

"The loss to ICCC I will take the blame for," said Hartley. "I didn't think it would be a problem only having two weeks back to prepare, but I was wrong."

It took some time for some of the players to be cleared by medical staff for play, and so the number of practices the Knights had as a team was less than Hartley expected.

""Not an excuse," he added. "We played and lost; credit to ICCC, but we will live and learn."

Against Marian, the Knights put in a solid team performance.

"We scored quite a bit in both matches but we felt like they were good team tries and not just individual efforts—Purdue was a good team-building match," said Hartley.

Marian has just brought in Kyle Stroman as an assistant coach. The former Indiana University and then Life University second row was a USA U20 player and is now trained in strength and conditioning to augment his rugby knowledge. It's a key addition for the Knights.

This week's non-conference game wasn't the only one Big Rivers teams have played. Thomas More beat Kentucky last week, and both Aquinas and Adrian lost to Davenport. Wheeling lost a close one to Queens University, while Adrian has defeated Michigan State and Iowa Central has logged wins over Nebraska and Iowa State.

Overall, then, Big Rivers teams have eight games against D1AA or D1A opposition, and are 5-3.

Looking ahead, then, this weekend brings two games to the Big Rivers. Marian plays Adrian in a clash of two teams that were successful in D2 last season. Meanwhile Wheeling faces 2021 D2 champions Thomas More. This will be the first conference game for both Adrian and Thomas More.

Iowa Central will play a non-conference game with Davenport, while Aquinas takes the week to work toward Adrian on October 1.

Big Rivers W L T PF PA PD BT BL Pts
Iowa Central CC 1 0 0 34 19 15 1 0 5
Wheeling 1 0 0 55 24 31 1 0 5
Aquinas 0 1 0 24 55 -31 1 0 1
Marian 0 1 0 19 34 -15 0 0 0
Thomas More 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Adrian 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0