More than bragging rights at stake for Air Force, Connecticut in DI Fall Championship

GREENVILLE, S.C. - The Women's Division I Fall Championship Final will be contested between Air Force and Connecticut Sunday, Dec. 6, at Furman University.

Unlike the Men's Division II National Championship and Women's Division II Fall Championship - also taking place in the Palmetto State's fourth established college institution - the Women's Division I Semifinals took place at Regionals. Air Force hosted the West Regional in Colorado Springs, Colo., while Connecticut traveled to Pittsburgh for the East Regional.

Sunday's Championship match, as well as the Semifinal and Final matches in the Men's DII and Women's DII competitions, will be broadcast live on USA Rugby TV.

Air Force vs. Connecticut

Sunday, Dec. 6 - 1 p.m. ET

Air Force was one of few teams to not have to travel for its Quarterfinal and Semifinal matches, as it hosted Minnesota, Northern Illinois, and Texas at the Air Force Academy. While the cadets had a physical battle with the Gophers in the first day's matchup, the Semifinal against Northern Illinois left a bit more to be desired at 67-5.

The Zoomies may have impressed in the playoffs, but their just-above-.500 regular season record seems underwhelming considering Connecticut's unbeaten streak. The Huskies went undefeated in the Northeast last season and beat all comers in 2015, including 10 15s matches through the Regional Semifinal and nine spring sevens matches.

Connecticut Head Coach Mark Jordan says the Huskies are "feeling confident" ahead of the Final, with seniors looking for hardware such as prop Amanda Lazarus and fly half Nicole Silles and a few players that have not last a match with the program. It does not hurt, either, to have a DI title in the trophy cabinet.

"Of course, the teams have met in the National Finals before and I would like to remind them that UConn were victors then, albeit in 1993," Jordan said, referring to Connecticut's triumph one year after its only additional appearance in a Final.

While Connecticut does have history on its side in regards to the stage and matchup, Air Force is 4-1 in the DI Final, and is battle-hardened for a rematch with the Huskies.

"Bookending our season with DI Elite BYU and NCAA Army were absolute gifts," first-year Air Force Head Coach Amy Rusert said. "In addition to BYU and Army, we faced a stout Navy and backyard-rival Colorado State, both of whom would have contended well during the regional championship weekends.

"We'll take the learning that has come from some wins, but mostly from our losses against some of the best teams in the country any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Not only was it the best way to calibrate the progression of our athletes individually and on the whole, it set the bar for where we would like to be in the future."

Similar to Jordan's group of win-heavy veterans, aside from sidelined captain Gabby Benitez, Rusert has had the luxury of breeding a crop of first-year players with "some outstanding upper-classwomen; young players learning and playing the game for the first time and veterans playing where they were needed most on the field."

The Zoomies focused on their own game in preparation for the showdown with Connecticut, as there will not be any familiarity on either side of the matchup. Air Force's versatility, which Rusert describes as one of the team's hallmarks this season, was on show against Minnesota in the Quarterfinal and will have to be at Furman University Sunday.

"We know little about Air Force as a team," Jordan concurred, "but they are here in the Final, so they must have some game."

The DI Final teams can focus all of their remaining energy on Sunday's match following a long fall season and tough Regional weekend, where two matches are played over two days. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on USA Rugby TV.