New Mexico readying for DI Elite in any way possible

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico Women's Rugby was one win from a USA Rugby Division I Spring Championships berth earlier this year (last season), with a regional tournament at its own Balloon Festival Park.

New Mexico and Brigham Young split the home-and-home series in Mountain West Conference play before the Cougars ended the Lobos' season three matches ahead of the National Championship, contested by Central Washington and Pennsylvania.

The Lobos opened the 2015-16 season with a big, 57-7, win over Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo., last weekend, but have been unable to get more meaningful match time due to complications with scheduled matches with Northern Arizona and Air Force.

Thankfully, Flagstaff 10s in nearby Arizona will give New Mexico time this weekend to prepare for upcoming matches against BYU and Colorado. The Lobos will enter two sides into the tournament to give a full XVs team and more time to compete for important starting spots.

"Living in Albuquerque, it's hard to get teams to come out here and play, and it's hard for us, financially, to travel places and play teams," New Mexico Assistant Coach Maria Clifcorn said. "We try to get any sort of rugby that we can and, since it was pretty close, we thought [Flagstaff 10s] was a good opportunity to have our kids get some playing time.

"Even though it's 10s, they still get to see how it's played a little bit and get some contact in."

Including Flagstaff 10s, New Mexico has had to do a bit extra this fall to prepare for the big-game matches. Team captains - and sisters - Brawley and Emma McCaslin set the tone, while Tanya Aragon brings a level of excitement with her pace and ability to finish the attacks the Lobos link together.

Aragon is just one player that best replicates oppositional offences in training, the next-best option to actual opposition.

"Out training sessions have always been intense because [we're often without a match]," Clifcorn said. "We don't have close teams that we can just travel to play, so it's kind of like we're playing each other all the time."

On top of that, the Lobos are now reaping the benefits of strong high school rugby programs.

"We have a couple of good rookies that have come out of the high school rugby teams here, so that's been a good advantage for us - to finally get that filtering system going," Clifcorn said. "It took a while, but it's getting there.

"It's nice to see some high school players that have played rugby and then come to UNM. We can see that career; it's nice."

After this weekend, the Lobos will actually have a match for which they can prepare, with a familiar foe in BYU. The Cougars defeated Air Force in their only action of the fall season so far, and will have a nonconference match against Utah Valley while New Mexico's playing 10s.

"It's just another game, but it is marked on our calendar," Clifcorn said. "We know it's going to be tough; BYU's a strong team. They have a great coaching staff. They have great players. We're going to go out there and try our best."

New Mexico and BYU are two of the eight collegiate programs competing in the new Women's Division I Elite competition next spring. The likes of Central Washington, Penn State, Life, and Lindenwood will also strive to be in the Final at the USA Rugby College 15s National Championships May 7.

Follow New Mexico on Facebook throughout the season to keep up to date with the Lobos' exploits.