The Time Has Come: College Rugby Big 4 Preview

Ted HardyContributor IApril 28, 2009

A year full of exciting college rugby action comes to a conclusion this weekend. In just a few short days, the American rugby community will turn their attention to the Steuber Rugby Stadium on the campus at Stanford University for the 2009 National Guard Collegiate Rugby Championships. At that time, the 16 best Collegiate Mens and Womens Division 1 and Division 2 teams will battle it out and crown champions in each of their respective divisions. 

Men’s Division 1

While Cal and BYU are almost a given to reach the Big 4 each season, Army and San

Diego State don’t nearly have the same experience. Well, there really aren’t any teams with the amount of Big 4 experience of Cal and BYU.

The first semi-final pits Cal against underdog Army. Army is the surprise entry in the Big 4 as they pulled off not one, but two upsets to reach the big stage.

This is Army’s first Big 4 appearance since 2003 after being a regular in the Big 4 during the 90’s. Do they have one more upset up their sleeve? Cal might have something to say about it as they are looking to notch their 25th National Title.

“They’re a good rugby team and what we’d expect to see from West Point: strong, capable young men,” said Cal Head Coach Jack Clark. “They win their half of primary-phase possession and run hard at their opponents with each and every ball. They’re good defenders as well - no weaknesses, really.”

Cal boasts an insanely deep squad of players that can be interchanged and still perform up to the Cal standard. Army will need a super performance and probably a little luck if they are to reach the finals.

“We’ve played a lot of rugby this season attempting to build some depth within our side,” Clark said. “The objective at this point is straightforward: try to scratch out a semifinal victory and advance. There are no style points on offer. Advancing to the national championship match by one point would suit us fine. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.”

The other semifinal has BYU taking on San Diego State. Much like the other semi-final, this one has a regular to the Big 4 taking on a team that hasn’t been there in quite some time.

Actually, it’s been a very long time as San Diego State hasn’t been to the Big 4 since they won the title in 1987. Don’t let it fool you though, the Aztecs have been building to this point for some time.

“We started with a plan to reach this level three seasons ago and this accomplishment was a collective effort,” said San Diego State Head Coach Dan Payne.

BYU had a hard road to this point and it may actually be in their favor. After a regular season that consisted of pounding teams easily, BYU was forced to battle for both of their wins to reach the Big 4.

The experience could prove to be very valuable. Discipline is still an issue for the Cougars and they’ll need to play clean rugby to get to the finals.

This could be the best of the two semi-finals as both teams match up very well and play enjoyable rugby. This could be a classic in the making.

Women’s Division 1

The Women’s bracket looks to be just as exciting as the Men’s bracket. All four, yes… count them, four, teams from last year’s Big 4 have returned to do it all again this season.

Stanford and Brown will take on each other in the first semi-final. Stanford is the odds on favorite with loads of talent, but they didn’t play to expectations on way to the Big 4.

Nevermind that, they made it and you can’t argue with their Championship results. They are the defending champs and have won 3 of the last 4 National Championships.

Oh yeah, one small detail… they’re also playing at home. Brown has had a great season coming out of the Northeast, but this may be the end of the road.

The other semi-final has Penn State taking on Navy in a Mid-Atlantic showdown. The two teams entered the collegiate playoffs as the #1 and #2 teams respectively from the Mid-Atlantic.

Their last meeting came last fall when Navy upended Penn State 31-17. If  they are to reach their 6th straight final, Penn State will need to exact revenge.

Men’s Division 2

The Men’s Division 2 bracket may not be as glamorous as the Division 1 bracket, but

they should put on a good show regardless. If the matches end up being streamed… watch them!

They just might surprise you. The first semi-final is an All-Midwest battle between Miami University (Ohio) and Wisconsin.

This is fairly unchartered territory for both teams. Miami’s last trip to the Big 4 came in 1984.

Wisconsin hasn’t waited as long for their return trip to the Big 4, but it has still be a while. Their last appearance came in 1992. This should be a close one and no matter what, there will be some new blood in the final.

The other semi-final has Middlebury taking on Georgetown. Middlebury is a perennial contender at the Division 2 level and has now reached the Big 4 three consecutive years.

Middlebury brought home the National Title in 2007 and are now looking for #2. Georgetown last reached the Big 4 in 2005 and got to this year’s dance in fine fashion as they took out Pac Coast #1 Cal-Maritime 20-17. This should be another tight matchup and set up a great final regardless of which of the four teams reached the final.

Women’s Division 2

Final bracket of teams to compete for a National Championship, the Women’s Division 2 comes in with the least amount of hoopla, but will play their hearts out. Defending champion Shippensburg will be on the hunt for their second in a row as they take on Washington State in the semi-finals.

The other semi-final has Stonehill battling Delaware. Could a rematch of the Mid-Atlantic final be in the making? We’ll find out on Friday.

Well, that about covers it for the Big 4. It’s going to be a great weekend of college rugby.

0The sad part is that this is it until the fall. So, endulge this weekend… stream some games. Catch the highlight show on ESPNU and watch the finals (even though you know the outcome) when they’re aired again on ESPNU later in May.

Big 4 Schedule

Friday, May 1, 2009
10:00 am: Shippensburg vs. Washington St. Field 2
11:30 am: Stonehill vs. Delaware Field 2
1:00 pm: Georgetown vs. Middlebury Field 2
1:00 pm: Stanford vs. Brown Steuber
2:30 pm: Wisconsin vs. Miami-Ohio Field 2
3:00 pm: Navy vs. Penn State Steuber
5:00 pm: San Diego State vs. BYU Steuber
7:00 pm: California vs. Army Steuber

Saturday, May 2, 2009
1:00 pm: Division 2 Women’s Championship Steuber
3:00 pm: Division 2 Men’s Championship Steuber
5:00 pm: Division 1 Women’s Championship Steuber
7:00 pm: Division 1 Men’s Championship Steuber