Air Force looks to rebound versus Aztecs, Arizona hosts Grand Canyon

D1A Rugby: Air Force looks to rebound versus Aztecs, Arizona hosts Grand Canyon
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater (homepage-left) Rich Bristol (homepage-right)

BOULDER, Colo. – Three D1A Rugby teams will be in action Friday night as Air Force heads to Southern California to take on San Diego State and Arizona hosts Grand Canyon University.

No. 7-ranked Air Force has had about as successful a fall season as anyone in the country. The Zoomies have steamrolled the competition in the West Conference on their way to a 4-0 start in league play. The team’s best win came in October against a sturdy Navy squad, and the only blemish on its record is a two-point defeat on the road against No. 3 Army.

San Diego State, on the other hand, has spent the majority of its fall semester training in sevens and playing in tournaments out west. The preparation paid off for the Aztecs, as they qualified for the 2015 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship when they took first place at the California State 7s tournament.

While San Diego State has turned its attention to 15s in recent weeks, and even saw 60 minutes of action against elite local side Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, the Aztecs should be at a mighty disadvantage given the strength and continuity of Air Force. Still, San Diego State was a D1A Rugby Playoff team last spring and returns nearly its entire roster from the team that fell to Colorado in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We are honored to host Air Force this weekend,” said San Diego State Head Coach Alex Lichtig. “They are a storied program that is currently competing at a very high level.”

Tomorrow’s match is the final game of the Zoomies fall schedule and an opportunity to wash clean the bad taste left in there mouth following the narrow defeat to military academy rival Army. For San Diego State, a win over a top 10-ranked opponent would serve as a much-needed positive note to a 15s season which the Aztecs seek to improve from their fourth place finish in California last year.

“This match will be a great opportunity for our players to compete against a quality program and it will serve as a measuring stick as we look to continue to develop as a team prior to our spring D1A campaign,” Lichtig said.

In the desert, Arizona is excited to have brought its entire program together after a couple of months of fielding separate training units for sevens and 15s. Now that the team has completed the three sevens tournaments they committed to, the Wildcats will send out their top 15s side for the first time since the May 11 Division I-AA Championship game.

“Friday will be special for a few reasons,” explained Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “It’s our final fall preseason match, and the first night game on newly-opened Sitton Field – right in the heart of campus.”

Forgive yourself if you haven’t heard of the Grand Canyon University Rugby Club. The team is in the midst of its inaugural season on its Phoenix, Ariz., campus. Although not deemed a varsity sport, the rugby team is a university-supported program and offers financial and athletic benefits which helped lure a highly-touted recruiting class of ready-made rugby players.

Both Arizona and Grand Canyon will be without a few youthful standouts Friday night, as each team has had players called on for this week’s AIG Men’s Junior All-American camp. Wildcats Mason Pedersen and Vinny Yackanin will be in attendance, while Grand Canyon’s Nick Kwasniewski, Darien Pickett, and Kris Sheckels also got the nod.

Arizona should be able to handle the two absences with ease considering the talent on its roster. The Wildcats look forward to stellar play from fly half Kyle Rogers, who is coming off an impressive freshman year, and Shane Demspey, who showed well during the sevens portion of the fall season.

“This is the final dress rehearsal before a very challenging and exciting spring season,” said Duffy. “We’re looking to end the fall on a great note before heading into a well-deserved break for the players to focus on final exams.”