Colorado State, Lindenwood to play for spot in Quarterfinals

D1A Rugby: Colorado State, Lindenwood to play for spot in Quarterfinals
Photo Credit: Joshua Pearson (left) & Tay Hawker (right)

BOULDER, Colo. – Two playoff teams from a season ago, Colorado State and Lindenwood, will meet April 18 and play for a place in next week’s D1A Quarterfinals.

Currently sitting at No. 9 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20, the Rams are five spots below the Lions and forced to travel to St. Charles, Mo., where they will attempt to topple Lindenwood. Still, Colorado State has been on an impressive run the last two months and won’t be taken lightly by the home team.

“They’re obviously a physical team,” said Lindenwood Director of Rugby JD Stephenson. “Their set piece looks great and they’ve got a fantastic coaching staff. Playing in a tough competition, they look like a well-drilled team from the film we’ve seen.”

Since the Rams got back onto the pitch in February, they’ve posted a 5-0 record and beaten fellow West Conference schools by a combined 148-50 in three matches. The team even jumped West Champions Air Force in the rankings, as each team shares a 6-1 conference record, but Air Force’s superior point differential lent the Zoomies a first-place finish and opening round bye in the D1A Playoffs.

Lindenwood, on the other hand, looked sharp in March when it beat No. 3 Davenport and dropped two tight matches to No. 1 Life by a combined seven points. However, the Lions enter Saturday’s Playoff game after two disappointing results. First, Lindenwood visited the Glendale Raptors’ elite senior men’s side and weren’t able to keep the game competitive in a 48-12 loss. A week later, Davenport had its way with the visiting Lions, 26-7.

Regardless of recent outcomes, Lindenwood is pleased to know the team hasn’t reached its potential just yet, which is something they hope to do in the coming weeks.

“In all honestly, we’ve yet to play our best rugby,” Stephenson said. “The way we look at it, we hope we have 320 minutes left of rugby and I think we’re going to peak at the right time.”

In order to earn 80 more minutes of postseason rugby during the April 25 Quarterfinals the Lions must slow down one of the more dominant forces in college rugby – Colorado State flanker Ben Pinkelman.

“We do respect players of his caliber, and he is a classy player in both sevens and 15s, and he’s going to lead them forward,” said Stephenson of the Men’s AIG All-American. “But like the old saying goes – there’s no ‘I’ in team. He might be an inspirational leader for them, but we’ve got 15 guys who are worried about their individual roles.”

While Pinkelman might be the Ram eating up the headlines, the team has several impact players including fellow loose forward Evan Giest and a talented half back pairing of Lance Eberhard and Carmine Hernandez.

Lindenwood’s roster, while wildly talented, has been struck by the injury bug as of late. Most notably is All-American lock Mikey Gierlach – who is not expected to play. If the captain can’t go, he’ll join another All-American in center James Poli and Junior All-American Wes Parker on the unavailable list.

“We’re dealing with a few injuries, but that’s rugby,” Stephenson simply stated.

Blessed with one of the deeper rosters in college rugby, the Lions still have standouts such as Sebastian Kalm and Tamatasi Paogofie-Buyten in the forwards, and Sione Fangaiuiha and Gabe Farley in the backs to cause damage.

The victor of Saturday’s clash between Colorado State and Lindenwood will advance to the April 25 Quarterfinals and a trip to the United States Air Force Academy to play the 10th-ranked Zoomies.