BOULDER, Colo. – Lecture halls are once again being filled with college students on campuses across the country, and with the arrival of the fall semester brings the return of college rugby.
Forty of the 900-plus college rugby teams will be competing in the 2015-16 D1A season – a number boosted by two sides with the inclusion of Louisiana State University and West Virginia University. LSU joins the Red River as the Conference’s seventh team after continuing a proud tradition out of the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference.
The Mountaineers of West Virginia will see a massive increase in the level of their competition now that they’re playing out of Rugby East. Coming off a season in which it again claimed the Keystone Conference in 15s and took first place at the Big XII 7s tournament to qualify for the USA Rugby College 7s National Championships, West Virginia looks poised to be highly competitive in its first season in one of the nation’s best conferences.
The other shift in conference realignment places Utah, an Independent team last year, in the West. The Utes finished the season ranked No. 6 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 last spring, and could figure as preseason favorites ahead of Rocky Mountain powers Air Force and Colorado State.
In the coaching department, several programs have new faces leading their respective sides, including two conference champions from a season ago. Winner of Rugby East, Army, saw longtime head coach Mike Mahan step down from his role to be replaced by former Eagle and Director of Rugby at Stanford Matt Sherman. At the Air Force Academy, Joe Muehlbauer’s lengthy and successful run leading the Zoomies leaves big shoes to fill for new head coach Denny Merideth and his staff. Other notable coaching changes include 62-time capped Eagle Luke Gross taking over at the University of Colorado and the promotion of Tal Bayer at Wheeling Jesuit.
“Not only are D1A teams improving in terms of skill and athleticism on the pitch, but we’re seeing upgrades on the sidelines, as well,” said D1A Commissioner Kevin Battle. “The new hires within the competition we’ve seen in recent years have been encouraging, and the coaches who remain at the helm of their teams continue to improve as teachers and leaders of student-athletes.”
Once again, the D1A schedule will be split between the fall and springs semesters. Rugby East will get conference action kicked off Sept. 12 with three matches on the slate that Saturday. Along with the East, Big Ten Universities and West Conferences will play their entire conference schedules during the fall semester. The California and Mid-South Conferences, as they have in seasons past, will play out their competitive 15s seasons in the spring semester. The Red River Conference, sparing two matches, will have to duke it out for a conference title in the latter half of the calendar school year.
The 12-team format for the spring D1A Playoffs will continue, with the final D1A Top 20 poll deciding which 12 move forward into the postseason to play for a National Championship. The National Championship game will be part of the USA Rugby College 15s National Championships to be played May 7.