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Upstart Undefeateds Highlight WIIL Weekend

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Upstart Undefeateds Highlight WIIL Weekend

The Lynx are enjoying life at 3-0.

The WIIL Men’s DII college conference gets back on the field this weekend with six games involving five teams ranked in the Goff Rugby Report top 45.

National #2 UW-Whitewater hosts UW-Stout in a game that, a year ago, would have been a division decider. But Stout is struggling this year, and it’s some newcomers and some upstarts who are hoping to chase the Warhawks.

Among them, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which goes into their game at Northern Michigan at 3-0, just like Whitewater. UW-Milwaukee was 1-5 in conference play last year, but according to club officer and flanker Alex Bukvich, there was a thought that things would be better.

“We got a bunch of rookies in last year who were good and they stuck around with the veterans who are committed,” said Bukvich. “And we got a bunch of other freshmen in this year who are good. They’re pretty much all from the area and have played high school rugby, so they know the game and are dedicated.”

With that in place, and a year of learning how to play together behind them, the Panthers met before the season and voted unanimously to work hard to be a serious team. Jerry Cebe came in to coach, with the understanding that he would volunteer his time if the UWM players would, too.

It has worked. With wing Gavin Lancello scoring some key and often opportunistic tries, and No. 8 Hunter Vannieuwenhoven powering through defenses, they have beaten Marquette, UW-Stout, and UW-Platteville.

Vannieuwenhoven has been outstanding in support, seeking the offload and keeping attacks alive.

“Keeping things moving is all part of how we are building our chemistry,” said Bukvich.

Meanwhile, in the South, the two new teams in the conference, Northern Iowa and Lindenwood-Belleville are also 3-0. UNI visits Loyola, and Lindenwood-Belleville hosts DePaul.

UW-Milwukee has started strong after a team-wide commitment to work hard.

“There are things I’m happy with from every age but there are always concerns that creep in, too,” said Lynx Head Coach Pat Clifton (who co-hosts the RuggaMatrix podcast with GRR Editor Alex Goff). “Our last game was our best game.”

Clifton said UIC and non-conference opponents UMKC were fairly equal to Saturday’s opponents Loyola, but while it took a long time to secure the victory against the first two, against Loyola the Lynx sunk their claws in and didn’t let go.

“It’s good to grind out a win, but it’s also important to learn how to put a team to the sword early,” said Clifton. “That’s especially important for two-game playoff weekend, where it helps to get a big lead early and rest some players for the next game.”

Belleville won’t be at full strength due to injuries and availability, and so despite being favored against DePaul they will have to overcome some obstacles.

While UNI’s quick start is relatively expected, Lindenwood-Belleville’s is a bit more of a surprise given that the entire program is brand new. They had only a couple of practice games before entering one of the toughest conferences in DII. Almost all of the Lynx players are freshmen, and that means there are only good things to come. But while Clifton, and former Eagle and BYU All American Kyle Sumsion, his assistant, is pleased, he also says the opposition is solid.

“Even the club teams we play; yes we’re varsity and I’m paid to coach, but every team we’ve played there’s a player, an athlete, that I would start. There are good players. We’re just able to work harder and work more than other teams.”


This weekend's WIIL Games

UW-Milwaukee #23 3-0 at Northern Michigan 1-1
UW-Stout 0-2 at UW-Whitewater #2 3-0
DePaul 1-1 at Lindenwood-Belleville #11 3-0
Illinois State 0-1 at Northwestern 0-1
Nothern Iowa #12 3-0 at Loyola 0-1
UW-Lacrosse #4 1-1 at UW-Platteville (Sunday KO) 1-2