Sixteen best from Men's Division II set for Regionals

BOULDER, Colo. - The chase for the 2015 Men's Division II National Championship is down to 16 teams. The Nov. 21-22 Round of 16 will be played over three regional locations: Des Moines, Iowa, East Carolina University, and Pittsburgh's Founders Field.

Each region consists of an intriguing combination of typical contenders to the DII crown, and up-and-coming programs seeking first appearances in the National Championship Semifinals. Four teams will depart from their regional rounds with two wins under their belts, and a place in the Dec. 5-6 DII National Championship at Furman University.

Mid-Atlantic Regional - Founders Field, Pittsburgh

After beating Roger Williams, 48-21, to win the Rugby Northeast Championship, UMASS-Lowell will get a shot at Rowan. Lowell's Conference Championship win over Roger Williams was the team's sixth consecutive win, as the River Hawks appear to be playing with a load of confidence.

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After losing in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference's title game each of the past two years, Rowan got over the hump for the first time since 2012, and beat Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the MARC Championship. Rowan's defense has been absolutely suffocating, refusing to relinquish a single point in five of its six regular season conference matches.

Fortunately for Lowell, scrum half Matt Charest has an unquestioned command of his squad's attack, and should be able to spot the smallest of gaps within Rowan's determined defense.

The other side of the Mid-Atlantic bracket will see Towson tangle with the Coast Guard Academy. A 24-21 play-in victory last week over MARC semifinalist IUP kept Coast Guard's season alive and well. Now, the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference's second-place team must beat the Potomac Conference Champions in order to advance.

Towson rectified its lone loss of the season to its bitter rival, Salisbury, by removing the thorn in its foot and beating the Sharks in the Potomac Championship, 13-10. After falling to James Madison in the National Quarterfinals last year, the Tigers will be eager to better themselves in 2015 with two wins in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Towson's triumph over Salisbury was only made possible through the inspiration the team has received from teammate Kevin Gallucci. A Tiger forward, Gallucci was diagnosed with lymphoma last spring.

"Winning our first PRC Championship was big for the program, but winning it for Kevin was huge," said Towson standout scrum half Eric Sweeney.

Mid-West Regional - Des Moines Rugby Club Grounds, Des Moines

Reigning back-to-back National Champion Minnesota-Duluth highlights the Mid-West Regional. The Fighting Penguins, again, have the look of champions. After breezing through its regular season with bonus-point victories in each of its six matches, Duluth had no problem with Winona State in the Northern Lights Championship match, shutting out the Warriors, 64-0.

2014 National Championship MVP Jake Luetgers may have graduated away from the program, but Duluth fly half Trace Bolstad is still directing the Penguins attack with an unmatched command.

Next in line for Duluth is Grand Valley State, which returns to the National Round of 16 for a second year in a row after claiming the Great Lakes Conference Championship. Like its Nov. 21 opponent, Grand Valley is undefeated. Its closest encounter on the season was in its conference title game when Xavier came within 10 points of the Great Lakes Champions.

Even after claiming its conference's crown, Lakers were still asked to get past Northern Iowa to reach the Round of 16. The task was tall, but Grand Valley State took care of business, 23-17.

The winning side in the matchup pitting Duluth against Grand Valley will face the winner of Lindenwood-Belleville and Colorado School of Mines. Belleville has been one of the most interesting stories across DII this fall. In just its first season of existence, the Lynx won the WIIL South, and its lone loss of the year was in the WIIL title game against DII powerhouse and North Champion Wisconsin-Whitewater, 45-20. The miraculous first season is thanks in large part to the program's inaugural recruiting class. Capable of providing competitive rugby scholarships, the youthful Lynx are made up of a young, but ready-made, group of college rugby players.

An undefeated season in the Rocky Mountain Conference earned Colorado School of Mines a play-in match against Winona State. Using a dominant opening 40 minutes to build a sizeable lead, Mines ran off Winona State, 54-22, for its spot in the Round of 16. The unscathed season has been exceptionally impressive given that Mines was playing in the National Small College Organization last season before moving back up to DII.

Northeast Regional - Founders Field, Pittsburgh

Two of the four Northeast Regional participants, SUNY-Oswego and Wisconsin-Whitewater, make their return to the Round of 16 to face Rhode Island and Springfield, respectively.

Whitewater will step onto the pitch at Founders Field as the region's favorite to advance. The 2011 National Champion was runner-up to Duluth last fall, and is having itself another terrific season. The Warhawks went a perfect 6-0 during their regular season, never giving up more than 15 points and collecting two shutouts. Whitewater also fared quite well in its three WIIL Conference playoff matches, winning the games by a combined score of 137-42.

Coming up 10 points shy of a National Championship last December, there is no doubt the Warhawks have ideas of a deep national playoff run in 2015, but first they will have to contend with Springfield College. After an undefeated season in the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference, Springfield used tries from Christian Costa and Johnny Yee to sneak past previously-unbeaten Salve Regina University, 14-11, and advance to the Round of 16.

Whitewater might enter its tussle with Springfield the favorite, but the matchup should be one of several Regional games between undefeated squads that appear to be anyone's game to win.

After a three-point loss to Vermont ended Oswego's 2014 season in the Round of 16, the Wizards hope to extend their season by getting past Rhode Island. Oswego's road to the National postseason and a second consecutive Upstate New York Conference Championship was not without its bumps. In the Upstate Semifinal, the Wizards needed overtime to get past Niagara before avenging a regular season loss to Cortland, 18-5.

After finishing as runner-up in the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference three of the past four seasons, Rhode Island took first place this fall. Tries from Darryl Brooks and Alex Sabitoni, as well as a strong kicking performance from Anthony Kennedy, helped the Rams to their 15-7 win over Vermont and a conference title.

South Regional - East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

Since its opening week loss to Siena, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been perfect on the season. RPI's string of wins eventually led to a Tri-State Conference Championship game against Molloy, which RPI took, 29-22.

Eagerly anticipating its match against RPI is the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. After finishing as runner-up in the Southern Rugby Conference in 2014, Wilmington beat Coastal Carolina, 23-17, in the conference's Championship match to claim the 2015 title and its place in the Northeast Regional. Tyler Coffey, Cole Schanilec, and Tim Torres, each members of the 2014 SRC All-Conference Team, have helped pace the Wilmington attack this fall.

Also pairing off in the Northeast bracket is the Virginia Military Institute and Salisbury. VMI enters the Round of 16 coming off the heels of an impressive run to the Cardinals Conference Championship. In the Cardinals Semifinal, Virginia Commonwealth provided little resistance, as VMI shut out VCU, 58-0. In the finals, VMI trailed Old Dominion by 14 points at halftime, only to hold the Monarchs scoreless in the second frame and storm back for the 50-26 win.

Following five consecutive Potomac Championships, Salisbury was finally bested by Towson to surrender the title they owned for half a decade. Still, the Sharks will again enter the Round of 16 as one of the feared teams in the field. A September loss to Mount St. Mary's seemed to wake up the Sharks, who got back to playing their physically-dominant brand of rugby, including a mid-season win over Towson.

Unfamiliarly finishing runner-up in its conference, Salisbury was forced to beat Coastal Carolina in a play-in game to reach the Round of 16. The Sharks were up for the challenge, and downed Carolina, 27-21.

The four teams to earn a sweep during the Nov. 21-22 Regional Round of 16 and Quarterfinals will advance to the Dec. 5-6 Men's Division II National Championship at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. The Dec. 5 Semifinals and the Dec. 6 National Championship game will be broadcast live on USA Rugby TV.