Air Force ends impressive fall with win over Aztecs

D1A Rugby: Air Force ends impressive fall with win over Aztecs
Photo Credit: Bryan Cox

BOULDER, Colo. – Coming off its only loss of the season – a two-point defeat on the road at the hands of No. 3 Army – Air Force was glad to have San Diego State remaining on its fall schedule as an opportunity to redeem itself.

“Our A-side didn’t have a match for two weeks, so I was worried how they’d come out,” explained Air Force Head Coach Joe Muehlbauer. “But we had some good training sessions and guys were testy with one another, and there were a few dust-ups. When that happened, I knew they were chomping at the bit to get after someone in another jersey.”

The Zoomies were indeed anxious to get after it in their Nov. 21 48-16 handling of San Diego State. Being the larger and more experienced unit, Air Force’s forwards were especially dominant in the affair. The set pieces and break downs were controlled by the cadets all evening, and the Aztecs limited match time playing 15s this fall was apparent.

“It was a good trip for us,” Muehlbauer said. “We got back in the win column and were hosted graciously by [San Diego State Head Coach] Alex [Lichtig], his staff and players.”

The win in southern California completes a remarkable two-month stretch for Air Force. The Zoomies, who will play the second half of their West schedule in the spring, won all four of their conference matches and began October with a defeat of military academy rival Navy. Even more impressive than the team’s 6-1 mark and No. 7 ranking is the convincing fashion in which Air Force has trumped its opponents. In their six victories this season, the Zoomies have won by an average of 36 points per contest.

The extraordinary start to Air Force’s season comes as a bit of a surprise considering the best team in the West missed out on the 2014 D1A Playoffs and graduated its best player in AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American Jack Bristol.

“I’ve seen it before, where you lose your big gun and guys pick up the slack – and it’s not just one guy, but several different guys,” said Muehlbauer. “Instead of guys waiting around for Jack to make a play, they are taking it upon themselves to make the big play.”

Another reason for the improvement of this year’s Air Force team has been its advanced fitness. Always a hallmark of any Air Force team, Muehlbauer says his players have taken their conditioning to another level this season, allowing them to play to their full potential for 80 minutes.

The hard work and preparation has shown in the results, and now the Zoomies have the belief that they can compete for a 2014 USA Rugby D1A National Championship.

“I see it and they know there is something special here,” Muehlbauer said of his team’s belief. “I think we’ve got the right group of guys who are hungry, athletic and fit.”

The spring semester will be another busy one for Air Force. To go along with their four remaining West Conference matches, the Zoomies will be competing in a number of sevens tournaments, and are working towards finalizing a home and away series with Brigham Young.