Rugby Red Wolves To Host Cal-Poly In Playoff Quarterfinal
JONESBORO, Ark. — Arkansas State University’s rugby team hits the path that leads to the 2014 D1A National Championship when it hosts California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in a the quarterfinal battle, Saturday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at the Arkansas State Rugby Field. Admission is free. A win over Cal Poly would advance the Red Wolves to the national semifinals to play May 3. The championship game is May 10 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
A-State, 4-2 in the Mid-South Conference and ranked third nationally, earned the right to host the quarterfinal game after receiving a bye prior to the opening round. The top four seeded teams received first round byes, including Arkansas State, St. Mary’s, Life and Lindenwood. Cal Poly, out of the California Conference, is ranked sixth and soundly defeated Wyoming, 46-7, in the first round April 19.
“They tend to be more of an offensive team if results this year are an indication. But I know they do quite well on the defensive side and minimizing the opposition’s chances from getting past the goal line and scoring points,” said NeMani Delaibatiki, Arkansas State’s first-year head coach.
“San Luis Obispo is the local men’s clubs side in the area where Cal Poly is located. We respect Cal Poly as an opponent, a formidable one, which should make for a great hard fought entertaining match for 80 minutes. And, I can assure you that they are not travelling here all the way from California to lose which sets the game up to be a very physical encounter.”
The players to watch for the Mustangs, which have had a rugby program since 1965, include Andrew Early, along with game-breaking runners Will Campuzano and Matt Long. Early is described as a bruiser from his inside center position.
The Red Wolves have been plagued with injuries throughout the season, but Delaibatiki is confident.
“The injury toll really hit us hard this season,” continued the head coach. “Zinzan Elan-Puttick and now Gavin Brown, Austin Bush and Dale Bates are added to that list. Connor Cook and Jake Mizell are both back from injury now, and we also still have several players that are carrying injuries. But, none are severe enough to keep them from playing. In the overall squad, we also have some of our younger guys struck bad with injuries, but overall as a squad, we are managing the situation well. As a team we seem to be coping well with other players stepping in to fill spots of injured players. No one likes being hurt, and with contact sports, these are variables that we can’t control. We have found that injuries give us the opportunity to test our depth which is working well at the moment.”
One thing that both coach and players consider a positive is playing at home. Arkansas State has enjoyed success in the rugby pitch on campus.
“There is nothing better than having home field advantage because it gets you fired up to play harder and stronger and to protect your turf here at home. Having a good home crowd supporting us and cheering us on tends to fire up the guys more which gives us the advantage when teams play at Arkansas State. This weekend we are calling out to the whole Jonesboro and A-State communities to come out and cheer your team on at 2 p.m.
“Having a bye is sometimes a good thing because it gives our guys who are still fighting injuries enough time to heal, recover and to get back to full form,” continued Delaibatiki. “Having match fitness is always a positive, too, because there is no better way to get fit week in and week out, unless you are actually playing a game.”
A-State came up a little short in the semifinals in 2013, losing a tough, physical 18-13 decision to Life University at home.
Delaibatiki noted, “We for sure have the toughest conference in the country with the top six teams in Division 1 college rugby all in the same conference, and whatever negative energy comes our way from critics is always used as motivation for us to do better and work harder. We have always been underdogs, especially this season. With key guys like Dean Gericke, Pat Sullivan, Zac Mizell, Nick Wayne and others lost to graduation over the years, and younger guys filling in now, our guys embrace the challenge.
“For me as a coach, I tend to not read too much into what others say about us, and the players are the same as well, because it can be so easy to get caught up in the politics of it all. Deep down, I know how hard we work, and how badly this team wants to win. As long as we have that belief in ourselves that we can do anything and face whatever is put in our way, than that’s all that matters to us as a team.”
Delaibatiki thinks all the achievements and records this season to get the Red Wolves going to 15s USA Rugby Division 1 National Championship quarterfinals are because of the caliber of his team of young men.
“They have been working hard as a team, and everything good so far this season is because of them and how much they put into practices and training sessions. As coaches, we do all we can to prep them with situational drills, teach them how to read the game, and to best play the game, but at the end of the day, it’s the players that go out and execute and I think the way the season has been going so far is credited to the players.
“This whole journey has always been about them and I am privileged to be part of it. It’s been an awesome journey so far, with my family moving here to Arkansas State, coaching, being welcomed by the Arkansas State and Jonesboro communities. I know how much this season means to these guys and what we want to achieve as a team. Anything is possible for us, and only time will tell.”