BOULDER, Colo. – Home to three of the top four teams in the country, it’s no secret the Mid-South has a plethora of quality rugby players within the Conference’s three rosters. With so many excellent student-athletes, several deserving players were left off of the All-Mid-South team, which makes the recognition for the players on the list especially well deserved.
Jake Anderson, Life – Named to the AIG Men’s Collegiate All-Americans after the 2013-14 season, Anderson continued to progress as one of the best tight-five players in college rugby. Hugely important to Life’s lineouts and defense, the senior Business Administration major knows how to gain meters with ball in hand, as well.
Xander Daniels, Life – Daniels has been Mr. Everything for Life University. After playing in the second and third rows during his first two seasons in Marietta, Ga., Daniels bulked up to fill a void at prop in the Running Eagles’ new-look front row. Not a man of many words, the junior let his play do the talking late in the season, scoring a try against Penn State in the D1A Quarterfinals and adding a second-half score in the National Championship game against Saint Mary’s.
Estevan Florez, Life – The Running Eagles’ march to a third consecutive D1A Final was only made possible by a group of freshmen who earned valuable minutes throughout the Mid-South season and D1A Playoffs. No first-year player impressed Coach Tui Osborne as much as Florez. Already possessing the frame of a collegiate prop, Florez improved immensely over the course of the season, and showed well against Saint Mary’s All-American front row in the National Championship game.
Mikey Gierlach, Lindenwood – Coming off a 2014 summer tour with the Men’s Collegiate All-Americans, Gierlach was a fine choice to captain this year’s Lions side. Ferocious in defense and with a motor that doesn’t stop, the rangy lock has come to epitomize the physically-imposing reputation Lindenwood is earning.
Sebastian Kalm, Lindenwood – A loose forward out of Santiago, Chile, Kalm is one of the more intelligent players in college rugby. As skilled as he is smart, Kalm had three tries in four Mid-South matches, and added two more in the D1A Playoffs.
Angus MacLellan, Davenport – Maybe the best front rower in college rugby, MacLellan misses out on the Forward of the Year in large part because of his absence from several matches due to his two stints training with the USA Men’s Eagles. As massive an impact MacLellan can make on a game individually, the expectations he put forth to his teammates elevated the Panthers to their first Conference win in program history, and first D1A Semifinal appearance.
Nathan Rankin, Lindenwood – Mikey Gierlach’s running mate in the second row had a very impressive season, as well. Big, strong, and with a mean streak to boot, Rankin was an absolute beast for Lindenwood defensively and a difference-maker when taking balls in the air.
Gabe Sochanek, Davenport – The Panthers’ irreplaceable hooker has meant just as much to Davenport’s rise to college rugby’s elites as JP Eloff or Angus MacLellan. With the respect and admiration of his teammates behind him, Sochanek has been a vital leader both on and off of the pitch, and makes more line breaks than one would ever expect out of a hooker.
Akbar Usmanov, Lindenwood – Just a sophomore, Usmanov firmed a tight grip on the Lions’ No. 3 jersey with his consistent play over the season. Competing against two of the best scrummaging teams in the country in Davenport and Life, Usmanov was a huge reason why Lindenwood more than held its own against its Mid-South foes.
Gabe Farley, Lindenwood – Now graduated from the Junior All-American program, Farley’s focus was squarely on positively impacting the Lions, whereas in 2013-14 the talented back line player split time between Lindenwood and the U-20s. Solidified as the Lions’ full back, Farley burned defenses for five tries during Lindenwood’s three-match Playoff run, and was regularly attacking at angles that allowed him to set up his wings for try-scoring runs of their own.
Brady Gent, Davenport – After playing fly half in 2013-14 for an injured JP Eloff, Gent thrived in his move to full back following Eloff’s return to form. With strong communication skills and an excellent tactical kicking game, Gent supplied a sturdy backbone to the Panthers’ back line.
Mark Gribben, Life – Another one of Life’s standout freshmen, Gribben came on strong in the second half of the Running Eagles’ season. The hulking outside center played his best rugby when Life needed him most by scoring tries in each of the National Runner-up’s three Playoff games.
Kevin Lydon, Davenport – No fly half can execute a game plan without accurate ball from the No. 9, and No. 10 JP Eloff benefitted from the steady hands of scrum half Lydon all season. A regular starter a season ago, Lydon played with the quickness and confidence of a groomed scrum half. His style of play also falls in line with Davenport’s gritty, hard-nosed disposition.
Jake McFadden, Life – After being named an All-American in the spring of 2013, McFadden missed last season due to injury. Fully healthy, McFadden found a home at inside center, where he acted as a second fly half. Defenses learned not to game plan for the senior strictly as a second distributor, as McFadden also fancied to stick his boot in the ground and explode for line-breaking runs.
Blane Mcllroy, Life – Coming off of an honorable mention All-American season as a scrum half, Mcllroy’s influence on Life’s attack grew as the Irish-born player moved to fly half. A quiet but confident leader, Mcllroy has great field vision, but arguably did most of his damage with his right boot. Kicking just as strong and as accurately as his predecessor, All-American Joe Cowley, Mcllroy made several important kicks – but none bigger than a game-winner against Davenport in the game’s final play.
Anthony Welmers, Davenport – The former loose forward moved to outside center upon his return to Grand Rapids, Mich., following a military tour of duty in Afghanistan. Welmer’s size provided an added punch to the Panthers’ midfield that kept the No. 3-ranked side on the front foot at will. In the Playoffs’ opening round, the senior helped slam the door on Wheeling Jesuit with two second-half tries.
Mitch Wilson, Life – One of three first-year players for Life to crack the All-Mid-South side, Wilson began seeing significant playing time after an injury to Harley Davidson shelved the standout center for the season. With an opening in the Life’s backline, Wilson was given a chance to stake claim of the No. 15 jersey, and the Australian-born player sprinted away with the opportunity. Wilson is sure to continue making strides as a strike runner, but his tackling is already trustworthy enough to excel as a full back.
Forward of the Year:Glen Maricelli, Life
It’s difficult to imagine a Life University team take the field without Maricelli leading the Running Eagles onto the pitch. Part of the fearsome-threesome from Missoula, Mont., along with Jake Anderson and Xander Daniels, Maricelli’s relentless work ethic has earned him two All-American honors – with a third likely heading his way this summer.
The Exercise Science-majoring number eight doesn’t possess the same size or speed as some of the players who share his All-American accolades, but Maricelli’s greatest strength is that his game has no weakness. Whether it’s passing, tackling, or carrying the ball, Life’s forwards captain does everything with precision and aggression.
Back of the Year:JP Eloff, Davenport
After missing the majority of the 2013-14 season with a knee injury, Eloff reassured rugby fans that he is one of the best overall college-grade players in the country. As a runner, distributor, and kicker, Eloff’s highly-developed skills reign supreme over his counterparts.
As much as the fly half’s physical attributes on the pitch helped Davenport to its most successful season since joining D1A, it was his heart, leadership, and work away from the field that drove teammates to play their best, and guide the Panthers to the D1A Semifinals.