BOULDER, Colo. – Three ranked teams will be competing in Rugby East Conference matches over the weekend, while St. Bonaventure and Wheeling Jesuit are preparing for stiff nonconference challenges.
No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 14 Iona
Penn State has been off from Rugby East action since its Oct. 10 demolishing of Buffalo, but did squeeze in an Oct. 17 nonconference win over Delaware, 51-19. The Nittany Lions now enter a very important stretch in their schedule. Back-to-back games against Canterbury D1A Top 20 teams begin Friday Oct. 30 versus Iona.
The Gaels have been the surprise success story out of Rugby East this fall. Currently sitting at 4-2 and going into its final conference match of the season, Iona would love to end an already positive season on a high note. In order to upset a second consecutive ranked Rugby East foe, the Gaels will have to contain Penn State’s Malcolm May. The dynamic flanker has scored tries in each of the Nittany Lions’ previous three conference matches.
Penn State’s Nov. 7 contest against Kutztown could potentially have conference championship implications. The Golden Bears will surely be favored in their Oct. 31 match against West Virginia, so it will be vital for the Nittany Lions to keep pace with a win at home against the Gaels – which will not come easily.
West Virginia vs. No. 6 Kutztown
Kutztown’s trip to West Virginia has the look of a trap game. Coming off a massive win over Army, and a looming Nov. 7 date with Penn State on the horizon, makes Saturday’s fixture against West Virginia seem less meaningful when sandwiched between those two games. However, the Golden Bears are an upperclassmen-dominated team, so expect the squad’s senior leadership to keep the roster focused this week during training and on the pitch Saturday.
One of those upperclassmen won’t be available Sunday for Kutztown and that’s All-American winger Alex Faison-Donahoe. The danger-man from Portland, Ore., will be playing for the USA Falcons at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 Halloween Rugby 7s.
On the contrary, West Virginia is the youngest side in the conference. The Mountaineers extreme youthfulness does make this match, as well as Nov. 7’s contest against Wheeling Jesuit, extremely valuable. A monumental upset is not inconceivable, but one must think West Virginia will be using these next two matches as a platform off of which next year’s team can build.
Playing a day after Penn State takes the field with Iona, Kutztown could potentially clinch a Rugby East title against West Virginia if the Nittany Lions secure anything less than a bonus-point win from the Gaels.
St. Bonaventure vs. Notre Dame College
The Bonnies will have a chance to earn their second Rugby East victory Nov. 7 when they play at Buffalo, but, prior to that meeting, St. Bonaventure will host D1AA side Notre Dame College.
The Falcons of Notre Dame College might be in their first year of D1AA after reaching the Semifinals of the 2014 DII National Championship, but they are fit to tangle with some of college rugby’s best. Already taking games from Rugby East’s Buffalo and West Virginia, the only blemish to its 6-1 record came against seventh-ranked Davenport.
A Friday-night victory over the Falcons would be St. Bonaventure’s best win of the fall, and demonstrate marked improvement from a team that dropped its first five matches.
Delaware vs. No. 10 Wheeling Jesuit
In another Friday evening affair, Wheeling Jesuit will head to Delaware to test itself against the Blue Hens. A former D1A Rugby team that has recently returned from suspension, the Oct. 30 game against the Cardinals will be Delaware’s third attempt to knockoff a Rugby East team this fall. The Blue Hens have already fallen on the road to Kutztown in September, and Penn State two weeks ago.
Wheeling Jesuit will be pulling double duty over the weekend, with a second fixture on Saturday Oct. 31 versus Loyola University of Maryland. It’s expected that the Cardinals will run-out its top side against former Rugby East program Delaware, and use reserves against Loyola. One player who won’t be available for either match is Wheeling Jesuit stalwart forward Peter Malcolm. The senior All-American will be competing at the Halloween Rugby 7s as a member of the USA Falcons.