Rocky Mountain, one of the oldest conferences in college rugby is set for another important chapter in its annals, but this one will be vastly different to years gone by. Since the end of the 2017-18 season the Rocky Mountain conference and its teams have undergone significant restructuring. It promises to be one of the most exciting conference schedules to follow in the Fall.
After a promising start to the season in 2017-18 the Zoomies, eventually, fell just short of their high standards. They will be looking to rebound in a big way for the 2018-19 season. Going 3-2 in conference play last year the Zoomies, who started 3-0, dropped their final two games of the season. In those two games against eventual conference champions, Colorado State and Colorado, they squandered early leads. One of the big changes that the Zoomies will have been working on throughout the off season is to refine their killer instinct, so those chances do not slip from their grasp again.
Their hallmark last year was an impressive set of forwards including McCord Thorley, Austin Lyons and Jason Kyles. However, all three of those players have left the program and with their departure a new focus may implemented. That new focus will be around standout fly-half, Eric Menser who last year was able to control the tempo and orchestrate attack with an unshakeable demeanor. With his return, look for Menser to be the central component of Air Force’s game plan.
One if the biggest changes to the Rocky Mountain conference is the addition of 2012 national champions BYU. BYU is traditionally one of the most stable programs in the country, but this year they had a rockier offseason than nearly any other program in the country. They had to deal with the surprise departure of long time head coach, David Smyth; but they were able to replace him with notable alumnus, Steve St. Pierre. During his time as a player St. Pierre captained BYU, won a championship, played for the USA Men’s 7s team and was a Collegiate All-American. With all the success, he enjoyed a s a player he is excited to try and replicate it as a coach.
“It feels great, like a dream come true,” began St. Pierre. “I feel really honored and blessed to be a part of it.” St. Pierre knows he has some big shoes to fill but is confident in his ability to not miss a step along the way. “Following up a legend is always a big challenge. We are just trying to build on what he did and grow towards national championship contention.”
Despite being new to the Rocky Mountain Conference, they already have a sense of familiarity with their opposition, having played against many of them as independents. “[We are] very familiar with the teams, and it’s exciting to play them, now, in a more structured format.” Ultimately for year one St. Pierre will be happy if his team can represent the school well and put a good product out on the field. It will be an interesting story to watch develop as the season progresses.
Another team that underwent a change in coaching regime was Colorado. The Buffaloes have welcomed in Chris Hanson, as their new head coach. Hanson, the USA men’s XVs national team manager, has been tasked with taking over a team that went 3-2 in conference play last year. The Buffs showed glimpses of their potential, including an impressive 49-41 win over Air Force. Hanson’s task will be to turn performances like that into weekly occurrences.
For Hanson that all comes down to focusing on the fundamentals. “We want to play 15 man rugby,” Hanson said. “Mastering the basic skills and fitness will be the keys to our success.” Success is something that Hanson has on his mind, and believes that they can achieve their major goals this year. “We are working very hard to win the conference. That is our number one goal. Each day we are doing everything possible to make sure we put ourselves in the best position to reach that goal.”
After coming off a tremendously successful season, The Colorado State Rams were left dealing with the passing of their head coach, Rod Hartley. Hartley was a cornerstone of the program and his loss was felt throughout the community. The Rams, have since appointed Mose Timoteo as the man to lead the team forward. Timoteo is a capped Eagle, having represented the US on 32 occasions and was a part of the 2003 World Cup squad.
Timoteo will have to deal with an exodus of graduating seniors, but he will have some impact players returning. Expect a dominant forward pack to come from the Rams this year, with the return of last year’s standout flanker, Joe Rusert-Cuddy and dominant lock, Jake Russell. The strong pack will be supported by a backline that, with Timoteo’s expertise, will become an explosive platform.
The University of New Mexico Lobos are coming off a season to forget, losing all of their games in 2017-18. Their closest loss of 2017-18 was by 10 points to Wyoming, they’ll be looking for marked improvement this year. Many of their results can be put down to youth and this year they are returning many of the key players from last year. The Lobos strength will come from their backline. Leading the backline will be scrum-half Patrick Sarson and center Christian Portilla, both of whom had exceptional years last year. For the Lobos to succeed they will need a forward pack that can lay solid foundations from which Sarson and Portilla can dictate the terms of their team’s attack. If the offense can get firing on all cylinders don’t be surprised to see Lobos in the winner’s circle more often than they have been in the past.
It was mixed bag for Utah State last year, going 3-2. The Aggies were able to beat up on teams in the lower rungs of the ladder, but struggled against the top two teams in the conference last year. They lost their two games last year by an average of 51 points, while they won their three games last year by an average of 40 points. Consistency will be the key in the Aggies search for a stronger showing in 2018-19.
Utah State will be led by their scrum-half and lock, Blake Day and Colten Elkin. Both players were standouts on their teams last year, and will with several key seniors departing, they must shoulder a larger load than before.
The Cowboys are one of the oldest programs in the country, but recently they have struggled to produce the results they’ve been known for historically. The last three years have seen them with one solitary win each year. Wyoming will meet with Utah State to open their 2018-19 campaign and if they are to change their fortunes this will be a solid stepping stone. Terrence Hellander will be the focal point for Wyoming, as the Flanker will be instrumental around the breakdowns and creating go forward for those around him. If Wyoming can produce a couple of players to support him and create opportunities around his breakdown efforts they could create trouble for teams in the conference.