Division III's best prepare for Men's Club Quarterfinals
LAFAYETTE, Colo. - There will be a new Men's Division III Club Champion in 2016 as eight teams prepare for the May 21-22 National Quarterfinals and Semifinals, and none of the competitors are 2015 Champions Wichita Barbarians.
Seeking Club Finals participation at the eastern regional on the ground of Founders Field in Pittsburgh will be Bremer County Bucks, Fairfield Yankees, Reading Rugby, and Savannah Shamrocks. Meanwhile, Tucson, Ariz.,'s Kino Sports Complex will host the western portion of Club Playoffs that will feature Euless Texas, Orange County Ravens, Napa Valley Rugby, and St. Louis Royals from the Men's DIII ranks.
Savannah will be the only DIII side in Pittsburgh with playoff experience from 2015. The Shamrocks were ousted in the Quarterfinals last spring by Old Gaelic Rugby, 33-24, but head to Founders Field with plenty of momentum following a 9-0 season in the Georgia Conference.
"It will be good having done it last year," said Savannah coach Scott Lucas. "We are used to the schedule and early kickoff times. We learned a bit about ourselves in the Quarterfinals last year, and I think it made us a better team this year."
Waiting for Savannah is another undefeated conference champion - Bremer County out of the Midwest. The Bucks look plenty determined after a 39-22 Round of 16 defeat of the Grand Rapids Gazelles.
"I have past experience playing in the Midwest, and I know those players from Iowa will be strong, physical athletes," Lucas added of his Quarterfinal opponent. "But our focus is on our own performance. We need to play our game for a full 80 minutes to be successful."
The other side of the eastern bracket pits Fairfield against Reading. The Yankees advanced to the Round of 16 after just barely fending off the Rockaway Fisheads for the Empire RFU Geographic Union Championship before crushing MIT Rugby, 45-7.
"MIT also helped us out by committing a number of errors and penalties that stalled their drives and led to turnovers," said Fairfield coach Grant Heller. "Rockaway was the first team to put up 40 points on us, and we are determined not to have that repeated."
Reading, on the other hand, enters the competition the non-traditional way. A loss in the Mid-Atlantic Final did not prevent Reading from advancing. The regional postseason defeat came against Rocky Gorge's DIII side, but the club's non-contiguous division of teams leaves Rocky Gorge ineligible for Division III National Playoffs.
Regardless of how Reading enters the Quarterfinals in Pittsburgh, Fairfield understands it will have its hands full.
"They are averaging over 40 points a game, so we have to respect their offensive capabilities," Heller pointed out. "At this point in the competition, there are no push-overs. Everyone is there expecting to win and will likely be well prepared and well-conditioned."
Like Savannah in the east, Orange County is the only club returning to the Quarterfinals in the west. Last year at San Francisco's Treasure Island, the Ravens fell to Dallas Athletic in the Quarterfinals. This year they will have to get past Pacific North representative Napa Valley. Orange County, which posted three shutouts during the season, will need another outstanding defensive performance against a Napa Valley team that scored more than 100 points on four occasions.
The Denver Highlanders gave St. Louis its toughest contest of the season in the May 8 Frontier Championship, but the Royals still advanced to the Quarterfinals with a 34-26 victory.
"The Highlander game showed us how our own mistakes can be fatal in the playoffs," said St. Louis coach Steve McKinstry. "They took advantage of things that we know we shouldn't do, but have been able to get away with in prior games without other teams capitalizing on them. Hopefully we can eliminate those mistakes that are under our control."
Next up for St. Louis is Euless, a team that was 10-0 before it handed losses to the San Marcos Greys and Austin Blacks D3 to win the Red River's seed to Nationals.
"Euless looks like they are big, fit and hard runners," complimented McKinstry. "We are going to have to stop their forwards from making line breaks because they have good support with the offloads. If they have the ball the majority of the game, it is going to be a long day."
Every match from Pittsburgh's eastern portion of the Club Playoffs, including Sunday's consolation matches, will be broadcast on USA Rugby TV, while every Men's DIII match in Tucson, with the exception of Saturday's Quarterfinal between St. Louis and Euless, will be aired live on USA Rugby TV, as well. Additional information on the broadcast of Club Playoffs can be found here.
The two teams able to navigate through the Quarterfinals and Semifinals unscathed will meet for the 2016 Men's DIII National Championship at the June 4-5 USA Rugby Club Championships at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo.