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Varsity Cup QFs Preview

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Varsity Cup QFs Preview

Navy got by BC last week, but will face a sterner test in CWU this week. Colleen McCloskey photo.

The Varsity Cup enters its quarterfinals and things get a little tougher for those who pulled out victories last week.

After looking very good beating Boston College, Navy hosts Central Washington. Navy's defense has been really good, with only a late softening against Army to put a blemish on things. They are dogged, and have one of the better 8-9 combos in college rugby. Their midfield took care of BC, but Central Washington is a different prospect entirely.

CWU is bigger across the board, and more physical, as well. The Wildcats haven't been seen much in college quarters, as they don't play a conference schedule (neither does Navy), and don't have too many equally competitive college teams nearby (unlike Navy). So Central has had to play men's clubs and the odd Canadian college team (where they have several grad students on their roster). They've not done too badly, beating Vancouver Rowing Club, Valley RFC, Abbotsford RFC, Tacoma, and the University of Victoria. They have also beaten Lindenwood-Belleville, but have been beaten fairly convincingly, twice, by BYU. That's the result Head Coach Todd Thornley should be concerned about.

"I’m excited to see how we respond under the physical pressure Navy will put us under on Saturday," said Thornely. "If we can match their passion & physicality, stick together and execute our game plan then I think we will get the desired result. Our schedule has provided us with enough rugby to prepare for the Varsity Cup, we’ve played some good teams and learnt a lot of the course of the last two months."

Thornley said the biggest lesson his team learned from BYU was that you need to execute under pressure for 80 minutes.

"As a program we must learn how to play at a high level for longer periods throughout a game, basic skill breakdowns cannot occur," Thornley said. "Failure to play the whole 80 this coming Saturday and we could experience an early finish to our season."

Seeing as that was Navy Head Coach Mike Flanagan's lesson to his team, too, this should b a good one. 


The other team with the bye, Cal, now travels to Clemson. While Clemson held off a determined Dartmouth game and should be gratified with that, Cal presents a very physical, and relentless opponent.

Clemson started an all-upperclassmen set of forwards against Dartmouth and figures to do the same against the Bears. The Tigers fell behind early against the Big Green but fought their way back, thanks in part to a 55-meter rumbling try by junior lock Liam Hellstrom that was followed in the first half by a powerful finish from junior flanker Joel Jaldin. Cal may see the same powerful front row for Clemson in seniors Joshua Dyson, Alex Wolhlers and Nick Bilgri; agile locks in senior Stuart Harr and Hellstrom; and an experienced back row featuring Jaldin, fellow junior Tommy Rippert and former All-America Jason Damm, a senior, at No. 8. Clemson's backs feature strong ballcarriers, highlighted by senior winger Colin Gregory, who scored two second-half tries to help put Dartmouth away.

For the Bears, the Varsity Cup quarterfinal travel roster is likely to include one or more freshman or sophomore in almost every position group, anchored around the core leadership of seniors Russell Webb at flyhalf, Anthony Salaber at inside center and Patrick Barrientes at outside center. Cal freshman Damon Wiley could be making his first national postseason start at tighthead prop alongside either Wade Ogburn or fellow freshman Sid Holland at hooker, with Kevin Sullivan wearing #1 at loosehead.

Sophomore Robert Paylor is on track to start at lock next to Connor Sweet, while freshman Thomas Spradling and sophomore Nic Mirhashem should get the call for the back row flanking No. 8 Drew Gaffney. Freshman Keanu Andrade is the early pick for the scrumhalf jersey against Clemson, and in the deep three, freshman Sam Cusano will work with fellow winger Jake Goena and Aidan Flynn, who will be getting a major test in his first run at fullback.

Penn State hosts Army in th rematch of an October conference meeting between the two. Penn State won that game 29-13, and did it in part thanks to their very mobile and aggressive forwards, such as Malcolm May, Ryan McNulty, and Chris Burien. But Army has found a little bit of their voice of late, and with freshman No. 8 Bailey Abercrombie coming into his own, they have more options now.  

And finally, the big surprise team Utah Valley plays at Arkansas State. UVU is physically strong, athletic, and can punish you quickly. But Arkansas State is not UCLA. The Red Wolves are very strong on the defensive line and in the breakdown, and run a pretty punishing system. ASU's problem is similar to that of CWU - they are a good team isolated. But getting back into the Mid-South Conference has helped them get more tough games. They can score from anywhere, and with their solid goalkicking they make every try count.