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West Small College Bracket Promsies Fireworks

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West Small College Bracket Promsies Fireworks

Aidan Kuhn for WOU. He's not that tall ... he's jumping. Alyssa Vandehey photo.

No one really knows what to make of the western bracket of the NCR Men's Small College playoffs, because every team is really strong.

Cal Poly Humboldt out of California, 2021 runners-up New Mexico Tech, Colorado School of Mines (who beat NMT this year), and a surging Western Oregon all come in with plenty to recommend them.

Colorado School of Mines

Mines beat New Mexico Tech earlier this year and that certainly turned some heads.

School of Mines Makes a Statement in Win Over New Mexico Tech

Inspired by the memory of a teammate who tragically died, and eager to use analytics combined with flat-out hard work, Mines has been a revelation this year.

Going into this weekend they have no major injuries and Coach Anthony Ford says they are feeling confident. "The team looks good," he told GRR. "I think we have a good chance to win our group and go to final four."

Western Oregon

Western Oregon not only won all of their conference games but also beat Oregon State and University of Oregon. They have their best numbers in years and the University is starting to see the success and is providing a bit more support.

Playing in the Challenge Cup in 2021, WOU was looking to move up to the championship level—the Cohen Cup. NCR's move to not have a Challenge Cup playoff and instead go for a bowl series finalized that decision.

"This year a good chunk of that 3rd place [challenge] team came back," said Head Coach Sean Pomeroy. "Last year we had a new system and this year we were working better on our 1-3-3-1. We have improved our running lines and the forwards have been more dynamic in their pods. Our passing and offloads are better and that had added some versatility on offense."

Center Aidan Kuhn is a huge part of their attack and he was a standout last year, too. Prop Sangato Letisi is a massive presence, while Trever Kahunahana is another standout.

"We have a bunch of guys who do the unsung work, and really the whole forward pack is willing to do the dirty work."

New Mexico Tech

NMT finished 2nd to Christendom in last fall's final, then went on to win ACR's D3 playoff in the spring and also won NCR's CRC 7s, beating Christendom in that final. So yes, they can play.

New Head Coach Chris Hathaway said he has seen the players improve and develop their work ethic.

"As a team we still have lots of work to put in to ensure we are successful in the latter part of the season," Hathaway told GRR. "Once the boys learn to use all the tools at their disposal, I know we can achieve our goals as a team."

That loss to Mines was based, added Hathaway, on "complacency and ego."

He knew Mines had worked all season on a plan to beat the Miners. "Unfortunately, my guys got big heads thinking it was an easy win. We dropped the ball on the attack a lot, were inconsistent with our defensive alignment and line speed, and the Mines team capitalized on kicks."

A harsh lesson, but one they can fix. Forwards captain Niko Crosato has become an effective leader and with standout Milaan van Wyk out injured stepped in to kick for points. Club president and scrumhalf Elijah Naranjo is an athlete and learning all the time. He and Van Wyk are constant try-scoring threats.

Add to that freshmen Ben Medve (flanker), Lukas Chavez (hooker), and David Vaquera (wing) and their future looks bright, too.

"We want to win [at playoffs], of course, but I also want to finish tying up all of our loose ends," explained Hathaway. "I want my team to grow together through the upcoming challenges and come out stronger, together. Our offense is catching on and building, now we just need to build consistency on defense."

Cal Poly Humboldt

Formerly Humboldt State, CPH knows they are in a challenging bracket.

"A tough western bracket indeed," said Head Coach Greg Pargee. "For the most part we are healthy and fit. That fitness will be put to the test versus any of these other three teams, especially with back-to-back days of rugby."

Humboldt's success has come in part from a leadership group of six seniors. They are the ones who saw what the team could be.

"They are hungry and passionate for a playoff run and this has been infectious to all on the team," said Pargee. "The guys are trusting the process and each other, work rates are up across the board and we just need to keep focused and disciplined."

A good balance of talent in the forwards and the backs and a willingness to play tough defense has seen Humboldt through.

And ... "our on-field vision is continually improving each game and better choices are being made during set piece and phase play," explained the coach. "But playoff rugby is a crazy beast sometimes. I think we will be in a good place if we can continue to stay mentally fit, apply our skill sets, and leave it on the pitch come match day."