GRR on X  GRR on Facebook GRR in Instagram GRR Vimeo Library GRR on YouTube RuggaMatrix America Podcasts Support GRR on Patreon

Tight DII Playoffs Promised in Pittsburgh

irish rugby tours

Tight DII Playoffs Promised in Pittsburgh

Kickoff time for Whitewater. Veronica Flores photo.

Eight teams are in Pittsburgh for half of the Men's DII College playoffs, and it's likely we'll see a new challenger out of one of those brackets.

Last year's national runner-up Wisconsin-Whitewater will take on upstarts Middlebury. For Whitewater, this has been as good a fall as they have had. They have an experienced backline, play smart rugby, and Goff Rugby Report has them ranked #1. Tim Grams and Eric Pachowitz have been working together nicely at halfback. Garrett Shibilski has converted nicely from the forwards to the backs. They score pretty much at will, even against other playoff teams in their conference. It's hard to imagine that, despite #38 Middlebury's improvements, they can beat the Warhawks.

In the other half, Coast Guard takes on UNC-Charlotte. Charlotte was humbled somewhat against Furman in the Southern Conference final, while Coast Guard won the New England Wide easily, but without really being challenges. It's not the ease of the conference that has CGA Head Coach Crist Holvek concerned so much as the long layoff since the end of the season.

"Having too much time off is always a concern, but it’s not much different of a problem as going into a big competition without enough time off," said Holvek. "Coming in battered and exhausted isn’t good either.  After we had prepped hard for the Hartford match that didn’t happen, I gave the guys five days off over a long weekend.  They came back slow that week, but I turned up the heat and we’ve been prepping pretty hard fitness-wise."

So maybe the timing is right. Holvek has an intelligent team that, finally, has cut out old bad habits. But their problem is depth. They could win on Saturday, and be under-strength on Sunday due to injuries. 

 "I think," said Holvek, "we’re the biggest underdog in the competition this weekend."  

If there is a team that didn't win its conference best positioned to make the final four, it's probably Illinois State. They take on MARC conference champs Rowan in a game that has all the hallmarks of a higher-level game. Rowan is ranked #8, and Illinois State #6. Somebody is going to be disappointed. 

No one, really, got close to Rowan in the MARC this year, except York in the final (a 32-17 Rowan win). But have they been challenged? Illinois State, you know, has been challenged in the WIIL, with Northern Iowa, UW-Stout, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Whitewater.  Only the last in the list beat them. 

"We know at this time in the season the teams we are going to play will score on us," said ISU's WIll Blair. "This is because of the competition getting better. One of the things we can improve on is our spacing and knowing where our defensive line is and trusting the player next to us. We have been able to play our best defense within the forward pack and inside while also being able to cover on the wings and over the top. We have a sound defense that is going to play well for all 80. Some of our guys that have been playing well for the entire year are our two props. Jimmy Marcello and Timmy Lynch they are guys that are conditioned enough to be in on every tackle and also be able to run great attacking lines." 

Meanwhile, it's going to be an almighty clash between Norwich and Bentley on the other half of this bracket. Norwich was undefeated in the NECRC, while Bentley ended up 7-1 in the Rugby Northeast. Norwich has emerged this year in part because they've had good timing. Norwich Head Coach Bob Weggler said his team has to play defense throughout the 80 minutes. They haven't had an easy time of it, and neither has Bentley. This will be a meeting of two teams (Norwich is ranked #4 and Bentley #18) that are relatively equal.