It may be the third week of D1A play, but this weekend will mark the first week of the Big Ten’s 2018-19 regular season. The Big Ten, for the past couple of years, has been on the verge of breaking out and making a name for itself nationally, this could be the year.
Since its inception into D1A, the Big Ten has been dominated by Indiana. Dating back to 2014, The Hoosiers are yet to lose a conference game. They have had an uncanny ability to produce star players, and provide them with coaching of equal caliber. In previous years, the Hoosiers have produced players like Bryce Campbell, a former Rudy Scholz (best men’s collegiate rugby player), current Eagle and member of the London Irish. More recently they’ve produced, Tyler Sousley a nominee for the Scholz award last year. However, the coaching staff that led them to prominence in recent years is no longer there.
Over the summer the Hoosiers brought in a new coaching regime, with a new director of rugby, David Fee- a former USA Eagle and a new head coach Justin Goonan. Both members are excited to get their tenure underway and see what the season has in store for them.
“Coach Goonan is fresh off spending time with the USA Eagles in their undefeated 2018 American Rugby Championship series and will look to keep that momentum going in Bloomington.” Noted Fee, “we are hoping two heads prove better than one as we look to build upon a foundation loaded with local Indiana high school talent.”
Ohio State:Last year’s runners-up, the Ohio State Buckeyes, hope to be the team that kicks the Hoosiers off their perch. They enter the season ranked 18th in the country, and only being four spots behind the Hoosiers, Indiana is well and truly in their sights. One of the main obstacles they will have to overcome will be their graduating class. The Buckeyes said farewells to a strong senior class in the spring, but that could be mitigated by a contingency of returning players.
“Ohio State graduated a number of players last year, and are returning a very solid core of players this year.” Director of Rugby, Tom Rooney explained. “ Plus, a strong freshman class. This might be the year!” Rooney isn’t the only member of the Buckeyes staff that shares the sentiment, there is a genuine buzz around the team this year. Time will only tell if its warranted.
Wisconsin:After narrowly missing out on a place in the Big Ten Championship game last year Wisconsin has geared up and is ready for another crack at the crown in 2018. The team that launches its ascent in 2018 will look remarkably different to the one in 2017. They had just under ten seniors graduate from the program. The team will also look different off the field, as former head coach Nic Tyson moved to Lindenwood, leaving their 7s coach Scott Adlington to take over the reins.
“Wisconsin has seen several changes this season with the graduation of at least 9 A Side starters from last season with: Tyler Crass, Ben Lehrmann, Dane Fleck and Hunter Crass being among the most notable.” Adlington mentioned, “The Badgers will be looking to their Freshmen and Sophomores to step up and fill the void left by their departure…While this may be considered a rebuilding year for the cardinal and whites they are hopeful that a few solid performances may see them figure in finals consideration.”
Illinois:2017-18 was a year of resurgence for the Fighting Illini. After suffering a string of losing seasons, they were able to step out of the shadows putting together a dominant season, going 5-2. This year they will be looking to continue their forward progress. However, there will be some changes they will test how far they really have progressed, as their coach David Petty explained.
“[We are] looking to build on the solid foundations of the last 12-18 months. Last year was one of the club’s best for recruitment and retention of younger athletes. With a changing of the guard in the pack, there will be plenty of opportunities for these players to step-up and stake a claim up front. With a return to a regular competition format, Illinois intends to become the quiet achievers of the tournament.”
Michigan State, had a similar season to Illinois, in that they were finally able to get over the hump and record a winning season. The Spartans went 5-2 on the year, with their two losses coming against the formidable Wisconsin Badgers. They were led last year by Fly-half Ryan Britain and Outside Center Jacob Richmond. Britain returns as a senior this year, while Richmond returns as a Junior. After losing some key players to graduation, retaining players of this caliber will go a long way in building their confidence ahead of the upcoming season.