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Will Shakeups Keep Coming in Great Midwest?

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Will Shakeups Keep Coming in Great Midwest?

Northern Iowa's recruiting and team unity (notice the UNI-ted written on the back of their jerseys) got them off to a good start.

The Great Midwest Conference already had a shakeup after the first weekend of competition, and it's likely we'll see some more of that as the season progresses.

Marquette beating Wisconsin-Whitewater was, of course, the most notable result.

"The team feels great," said Marquette's Joe Artinian. "Obviously it was a very historic win, given we have never beaten Whitewater before. Our goal before the season is to win a conference championship, make nationals and such and we really feel like we can achieve those goals with this team, not only the talent we have, but the depth as well."

Marquette shook up their attack as well. They worked on a pod-centered attack that worked well against Whitewater. Scrumhalf Benji Vanhandel, although new to the #9 jersey, worked that attack nicely and scored twice.  Captain and flyhalf Tommy Tavrides ran the defense well and used centers George Haikal and Nick Cinquepalmi effectively. Sophomore wing Sam Poblocki used his exceptional pace to score two tries, including the game-winner. Up front hooker Brian Cooke and lock Patrick Cooney connected superbly in the lineout.

"Our subs who came on also played exceptionally well and for a lot of us not playing rugby in the last two years, I think we were certainly satisfied in the performance of the team," said Artinian. "But we also are taking a step back and are making sure to look ahead to our next opponent and prepare for a tough game as well."

Men D2 College Rankings 2021 Week 4

Warhawks Wounded

For Whitewater, this wasn't the first time they've been hit hard early, and they know they have a target on their backs every week. head Coach Patrick O'Connor did point out that the winning try came in the final seconds—it wasn't as if Whitewater was out of it.

"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought match and it was," said O'Connor. "I was proud the team never gave up on themselves. We were behind since the 22nd minute of the match and we battled back to take the lead 31-29 in the 65th minute. For the first match of the season it was physically and mentally challenging and set the bar for the remainder of the season. Along with defense, we have many facets of the game to address."

Fair enough.

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Recruiting Powers Platteville

Wisconsin-Platteville also pulled off a big win, beating Northern Michigan, and part of that had to do with being able to bridge the COVID shutdowns.

"We managed throughout COVID because we all knew we had something special happening here and we all had to stick together and recruit as much as possible in a safe manner," said Platteville backs captain Derek Matz. "A huge tip of the hat to our recruiting team because we added about 14 to 15 more guys this year."

As for the game, 24-7 defeat of NMU, Platteville was up for it and started well early. No. 8 Ed Schott was a powerful presence both on defense and carrying the ball. Flanker Hayden Rudkin can play as a loose forward and as a back, and he showed that with some key line breaks and open field tackles, one a try-saver. 

Scrumhalf Aaron Kinney looked good but then broke his arm with two minutes to go. He scored a try on a 60-meter run and was really good at stealing the ball in the breakdown. How Platteville deals with his absence might tell the story of the season. 

Flyhalf Robbie Ruth ran the backline well and was ferocious in his tackling.

Everybody did their job.

"Here at Platteville we don't have a coach," said Matz. "The coaching is all done by players who have experienced rugby for themselves and want to see Platteville succeed and make a name for itself. Derek Skibba, Kanen Getz, Robbie Ruth, Aaron Kinney, and myself are the only players with multiple years of rugby experience before this season and all we are doing is sharing our knowledge of rugby with all the new players that came out this year to play the sport that we have all grown to love. On to the next one."

Can't Spell United Without UNI

And Northern Iowa, not ranked last week, defeated 2019 conference champs Illinois State 34-17. This was a signal that UNI is back.

"The last few years have been tough for numbers, despite having relatively successful seasons," said Kaleb Boleyn. "In 2018 when we made the Great Midwest Final 4 we started the season with upwards of 30 guys which fell to 17 for those final games. This continued into the next season where we had troubles even getting 15 guys to practice. When the pandemic shut us down we knew we had to step up our recruiting game. With Iowa’s Youth Rugby Association growing quickly that’s where we turned our focus. We now have 10+ players with high school rugby experience, a huge bonus in building a successful team at this level."

Several of those underclassmen showed well in the opener, including David Randall, Nick Marker, Ian Hibbert, Tyler Campbell, Cooper Isaacson, and player of the game Jentry Staack. The halfback combination of Randall and Staack "is going be one to watch for the years to come," said Boleyn.

Norwalk HS (Iowa) products Nick Marker and Ian Hibbert are explosive and smart and will help through the season.

But it's not just that, team unity is key, too.

"I feel like this is the best team cohesion we’ve had since I started here," said Boleyn. "We seniors this year have really made an emphasis to change the culture to become a competitive team and to be able to build the foundation for these underclassmen to turn into an empire. They have all the talent to do it. We feel the biggest thing we can continue on to be successful is creating the team chemistry. Especially off the field, we’re constantly hanging out together, team movies, team dinners, bowling, volleyball, on campus activities everything we can to get to know each other and build that trust. 

"The leadership we have up and down the board is tremendous, not a single one of us is scared to step up in practice or in a game when needed. We’re getting guys to practice consistently, although we’d still like some more numbers, and we're super thankful for the UNI Women’s team for being there for us when we need 15-on-15 looks."

UNI does have some mistakes to clean up, but this was an excellent start.

Loyola also won, but that wasn't a surprise as they cruised 65-5 over UIC.

So this week Northern Iowa hosts Northwestern, Marquette looks to back things up at Northern Michigan, Platteville is at UW-Milwaukee, and Loyola is at Illinois State. So this is a list of games between teams that won last week and tiehr well-regarded teams that lost and want to bounce back, or teams that haven't played yet. It's all up in the air.