D1A Quarterfinal appearance on the line when Cal Poly visits Air Force

D1A Rugby: D1A Quarterfinal appearance on the line when Cal Poly visits Air Force
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater (left)

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – After neither team won a 2015 D1A Playoff game, either Air Force or Cal Poly will claim a postseason win when the two squads do battle April 17.

Both Air Force and Cal Poly dropped two conference matches on their way to third-place finishes in the West and California, respectively. The third-place finishes weren’t where either team wanted to end the regular season, but their combined four losses were all against opponents in top-15 of the Canterbury D1A Top 20.

“We are happy with our preparation up to this point,” said Cal Poly Head Coach James Tesoriero. “Although we’ve dropped a few games recently, and our ranking has suffered as a result, we intentionally scheduled difficult opponents building into the Playoffs.”

The Mustangs certainly have challenged themselves on the pitch, including bouts against Cal and perennial senior club National Championship contender the Tempe Old Devils. Still, Air Force might have played the most challenging spring schedule in the country. The Zoomies threw caution to the wind by taking on BYU, Cal and Life – a tough task that no other team in college rugby can say it faced.

“The challenging schedule has been a great tool for the team to develop and implement an exciting style of rugby desired by the team and the staff,” said Air Force Head Coach Denny Merideth.

The lessons learned in defeats to some of the nation’s best should go a long way in slowing down Cal Poly’s most dangerous playmakers.

The Mustangs, like all rugby teams, have dealt with their share of injuries. A few prominent individuals, including Will Campuzano and John Joe Murphy have worked their way back to health, and provide quality ball-running abilities. The team’s biggest loss wasn’t due to injury, though. Junior All-American Connor Cudeback is now propping for Belmont Shore. Fortunately, seasoned campaigner Mickey O’Crowley still provides a powerful punch in the Cal Poly front row.

In terms of who the Mustangs should key-in on, it starts with Air Force’s Grigor Kerdikoshvili. Possessing a unique skill set, Kerdikoshvili can play lock or flanker, and even handles the Zoomies’ kicking duties. He’s joined by loose forward Elliot Higgins and prop McCord Thorley as the team’s most reliable forwards. In the backs, the Air Force attack centers around line-breaking Ben Burmester. The inside center had a terrific fall season on his way to a 1st-Team All-West selection.

“I understand they have hard-running centers, a dangerous full back and a very talented running backrower,” said Tesoriero. “So, our defense will be tested over the entire 80 minutes.”

The team that comes out on top of what appears to be a cold afternoon at the Air Force Academy will play No. 2-ranked Saint Mary’s April 23 in the Quarterfinals of the D1A Playoffs.