LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The Mid-South Conference might only be three teams deep, but there is no shortage of outstanding rugby players amongst the trio of elite programs. 2016 D1A National Champion Lifeleads the way as Conference Champion, but No. 3-ranked Lindenwood and No. 6 Davenport also possess a lethal dose of physically strong and skilled student-athletes.
Estevan Flores, prop, Life: Coming off a season in which he started as a freshman, Flores elevated his game in his second year in Marietta, Ga. Incredibly, Flores played all but 20 minutes of Life’s D1A season, and made the most tackles and meters ran of any Running Eagle forward.
Alex Maughan, prop, Life: Like his front row partner Flores, Maughan is a second-year starter with Life as just a sophomore. The Charlotte native was also very durable for Life, and was a reliable part of the Running Eagles set piece.
Jon Holden, hooker, Lindenwood: Holden staved off plenty of up-and-coming talent within the Lindenwood roster to hold down the hooker position for the Lions. After a few seasons of inconsistent play from the lineout, Lindenwood enjoyed its share of retained possession from the touchline restart thanks to Holden.
Thomas Cheslek, lock, Davenport: The Panthers had an inconsistent season this year, but it was not for the play of its second row. Cheslek made up one-half of Davenport’s engine room that provided plenty of power in the both the set piece and in loose play.
Trevor Rothhaas, lock, Davenport: If the All-Conference team was compiled based on stat sheets, Rothhaas might not have made the cut. After an All-State high school career in Indiana, Rothhaas quietly does a lot of Davenport’s dirty work – and does it well. Both sophomores, Cheslek and Rothhaas have bright futures at Davenport.
Dominique Bailey, flanker, Davenport: A four-year starter for Davenport, Bailey saved his best season for his senior year. The openside flanker was simply all over the pitch during the Mid-South season, scored a try in the Panthers’ Playoff win over San Diego State, and was described by Life Head Coach Scott Lawrence as the “best back row forward in the conference.”
Harley Davidson, flanker, Life: Coming off of an injury-plagued 2014-15 season, Davidson returned to Life’s roster this year but not in his more familiar position of center. Instead, the junior from Boise made a switch to flanker, where he was a difference-maker on defense as well as with ball in-hand. Davidson capped his massive season with an MVP performance in the D1A National Championship game.
Carl Smith, number eight, Davenport: Tama Paogofie-Buyten had a great season at the back of Lindenwood’s scrum, but Smith narrowly gets the nod. The senior was in his third season as a starter in the Panther’s back row, and was influential in both defense and attack.
Marcus Walsh, scrum half, Life: Walsh didn’t settle for being solely a distributor. The Ireland native also scored eight tries – including one in the National Championship game. Outside of his productivity, Walsh was also a superb field general for the Running Eagles this season.
Blane Mcllroy, fly half, Life: Mcllroy may have missed Life’s postseason run to its second National Championship due to an injury, but that doesn’t take away from the No. 10’s terrific regular season. Letting his passing and kicking do the talking, Mcllroy didn’t collect any tries this season, but did score 50 points from the tee in four Mid-South matches.
Zander Van Schalkwyk, center, Life: The older of the two Van Schalkwyk brothers has quietly been an important piece to Life’s back line since he joined the program three years ago. Long and rangy, Van Schalkwyk can fend his way through defenses. However, don’t be fooled by his thin frame, as the Running Eagles’ Mid-South rivals will attest to how difficult it was to get behind Life’s sure-tackling midfield.
Anthony Welmers, center, Davenport: Coming off an All-American season, Welmers had another fantastic year for the Panthers. Always tough on defense, Welmers expanded his game this year to become a much better passer, and became especially dangerous when offloading in traffic.
Mike Houston, wing, Davenport: After spending his first three seasons at Davenport as a center, Houston found a consistent home on the wing during the 2015-16 season. The former High School All-American brought his tough-nosed defense to the Panthers’ back three, while proving he had the pace to be dangerous on the edge.
Deion Mikesell, wing, Lindenwood: The freshman from Des Moines has had a pretty impressive 2016. First, Mikesell earned a starting role in Lindenwood’s back line before being selected for the Junior All-Americans, who beat Canada to qualify for the World Rugby U20 Trophy. The 220-pound wing was so impressive for the U20s he was called up to the Eagles, and gained his first international cap in a March 5 start versus Uruguay. Mikesell wasn’t too shabby against college competition, scoring two tries in the Lions’ opening round Playoff victory over Wheeling Jesuit.
Lunaile Tshuma, full back, Lindenwood: Tshuma played well wherever he lined up for the Lions. The Zimbabwe National Team player spent time at fly half and wing, but makes the All-Mid-South squad as a full back. Tshuma’s wealth of experience has provided the playmaker great field vision and a deadly accurate boot. Between penalties and conversions, the versatile Lion scored 62 points during conference and postseason play.
Freshman of the Year – Malon Al-Jaboori, Lindenwood: A prized prospect coming out of Tulsa, Okla., Al-Jaboori didn’t disappoint in his first year in black and gold kit. Featuring in both Lindenwood’s second and third rows, Al-Jaboori is amazingly athletic for his six-foot-three, 240-pound frame. Representing the USA in Zimbabwe during the World Rugby U20 Trophy, Al-Jaboori proved to be one of the team’s most prominent players, starting in each of the Junior All-Americans’ four games.
Forward of the Year – Wes Parker, Lindenwood: Coaches from the Mid-South agree – Parker is one of the best overall players in the conference. Following a rugby career at St. Xavier in Kentucky that equated to a place on the High School All-American team, Parker is evolving into the dominant flanker Lindenwood hoped he would. After battling injuries early in the 2015-16 season, Parker hit his stride by the time Mid-South matches came about. Absolutely dominant on defense, Parker was also one of the Lions’ best ball carriers.
Back of the Year – Cody Melphy, Life: Melphy was the Running Eagles’ breakout player in 2016. This might have been the center’s first season at Life, but one look at Melphy on the pitch and it’s easy to see he’s been in a high performance environment before getting to Marietta. Last year, Melphy made a few starts for the Glendale Raptors Pacific Rugby Premiership side. This season, he led the team in tries scored by dotting down eight times in six games played against Davenport and Lindenwood. Following an injury to fly half Blane Mcllroy, Melphy calmly moved to the No. 10 jumper, where he played a crucial role in the D1A Final, and handled kicking duties as if he’d done it all season long.