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Upstarts and Resurgent Teams in Men's D2

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Upstarts and Resurgent Teams in Men's D2

Montana State captain Jackson Ellbogen-Petterson.

We are enjoying seeing a few upstart Men's D2 College teams this season which is gratifying to us at Goff Rugby Report World Headquarters because it gives us something to talk about on the daily 90-minute bullet train ride from home to HQ.

Shaking up expectations is good for the competition as a whole.

So one of the shapeups is based on an annoying split in D2 last year. Most of the Men's D2 College teams played under NCR last fall, but not all of them. There was a challenge match between the SCRC champs Auburn and the Rocky Mountain champs Montana State, and that was a good game that demonstrated that both teams knew how to play. But it was very difficult to see where they fit in the overall rankings. We feel we got it right, but this fall we're seeing both teams win big early. Could we have gotten it wrong and could both the Tigers and the Bobcats be higher up in the pecking order?

Yes, yes they could. And it could be that both improved. Montana State's 76-5 win over Colorado School of Mines is a wakeup call that MSU might be even better this year. That idea is actually backed up by the facts. Head Coach Joe Williams knew he had a tough, physical side, but it was not sophisticated in attack. He asked Wayne DiMarco, a longtime coach and referee (whose daughter Alex was a Sorensen finalist a couple of years back) who splits his time between Montana and Pennsylvania, to help. Williams said to DiMarco, wipe it clean and start over.

He has taken a one-pass-and-ruck offense and made it more open and exciting. DiMarco brought two players into Pennsylvania for the summer to play with the Schuylkill River. One of those players, Lex Minnear, was new to rugby but has emerged not only as a talented inside center, but the team's backs captain. Meanwhile, flanker Jackson Ellbogen-Petterson, who was a force in that game against Auburn last fall, is the captain and brings a high work rate and a lot of understanding of the game. MSU was a good team last year. They have raised their game.

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Another team to watch is Southeastern Louisiana. The Lions started off strong and won another big game this week against Tulane. They have been boosted by twin brothers Keagan Hogg and Connor Hogg out of South Africa. Twins they may be but one players fullback and the other plays ... lock. Sounds like a nature vs nurture debate right there. Keagan the fullback scored in the first few minutes. Wings Michael Kennedy and Sage Nugent also scored, and so did flyhalf Felix Hamilton-Marino. They can move the ball. 

Southeastern La. also had an effective bench and the closers (they call it the "Bomb Squad") finished strong setting up two tries for freshman center Tyler Anclade (who we mentioned several times this past spring when he was with New Orleans Jesuit). Seeing some solid play, and depth, from the Deep South is good news for the entire division.

In the Gateway Conference we already went into some details about Washington University going from a team without a coach and with an uncertain future to perhaps one of the strongest teams in the conference.

Coaching Reload Sparks Washington University as Gateway Surprise

There are a couple more upstarts or resurgent teams to keep an eye on. Grand Valley State won big over Calvin, which could just be a commentary on the competitive balance in the Great Lakes, but indications are that GVSU is back working toward the top of the conference heap. Proof is in the pudding, as they say. In this case the pudding is GVSU hosting Central Michigan this coming weekend.

And there's Marist. Now Marist isn't really an upstart except that the Tri-State teams don't get a lot of respect when it comes to playoff time. That's because they don't win a lot of games. Marist could change that. They return most of their backline, have instilled a more modern and effective attack structure, and also have key returners in the pack. So watch that "yeah but it's the Tri-State" talk.