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Young Wildcats Use CRC Springboard

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Young Wildcats Use CRC Springboard

Rusty Wortman photo.

After a season where they struggled to find victories in 15s and finished the PAC Rugby Conference with a 1-4 record, Arizona didn’t go into the CRC with too many thinking they would crush it.

But the Wildcats didn’t do badly at all, beating Penn State and Dartmouth to win their pool and then they edged Arkansas State 7-5 to make the semis. And in the semis, Arizona almost pulled off an old-fashioned upset over Kutztown, losing 19-14.

Arizona enjoyed surprising a few at the CRC. Rusty Wortman photo - click image to enlarge.
Arizona 2015 CRC Rusty Wortman

“This is really a situation where last year’s CRC motivated everybody and we knew we didn’t play to our potential then,” said Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “Last year, we had ten days to prep. This year we had a month-and-a-half. So we liked how we had the time to put the work in, and then we actually put that work in. We liked the group of players we had.”

Arizona’s fall 7s season was ho-hum, but Duffy said the program used that time to develop players rather than rack up wins. It worked.

“The CRC is the most important 7s tournament for us, so we target that,” said Duffy. “Eight out of the 12 players at the CRC were freshmen and sophomores. We are a growing team. Jack Arnold was fantastic as a captain - he’s in the best shape he’s ever been and he dedicated himself to getting there.”

But the young guys emerged, too. Dante Weeks, of course, was superb. The speedy freshman who had one season of rugby at Granite Bay before matriculating at Arizona. He epitomizes the Arizona players - talented, athletic, but still with a lot of room to grow.

And they won’t get much older next year. Duffy has been pounding the bricks recruiting players, and the players he has coming in are impressive, led by Brian Hannon, the flyhalf out of Royal Irish, and Steven Branham, the Mr Everything for Fallbrook. Add to that Westlake loose forward Bobby Butchofsky, and Granite Bay HS All American scrumhalf Mat Rogers, Fallbrook HS All American flanker Ian Crilley, and Torrey Pines HS All American wing Jeremy Fleet, and Japan U18 lock Tyler Hansen, and you get the idea. 

Not all of these youngsters will immediately start, but they will provide plenty of competition for places. Former HS All American Tyler Sousley will be back from injury, too. Duffy says he will keep on recruiting.

“I handle it personally,” he said. “I look under every rock. Whoever sends me stuff, I don’t care who it is, will get a response from me. If they send me film, I watch the film - all of it. We find some diamonds in the rough that way.”

Arizona Rugby is a Cactus Tier team at Arizona. What that means is the rugby team is’t varsity, but neither is it run as a recreational sport. It’s an elevated intercollegiate club, as is men’s lacrosse and men’s ice hockey. They get better administrative and medical support than a regular club gets, and some privileges, too.

All of that is attractive to recruits, but perhaps the biggest thing this year was the CRC. With their 15s season not particularly stellar, the Wildcats needed to show themselves and their supporters some progress.

Duffy said his program will continue to concentrate on 7s in the spring. The fall will be about strength & conditioning, and developing some players. The spring will be about pursuing wins in the PAC Conference and DIA playoffs.

“We love DIA,” said Duffy. “Right now the CRC is our priority in 7s, so the fall is a chance to develop skill work. We’re working on a good balance.”

Before the CRC, Goff Rugby Report said Arizona was a year away from making a splash - we were, of course wrong, but only in that the Wildcats made a splash this year. The assertion that they are on the rise remains.