LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The 2016 West Conference season saw the addition and subtraction of one team from the state of Utah. The University of Utah, although it played each opponent from the West this fall, is now a member of the PAC Rugby Conference, and Utah State took the Utes’ place.
Utah State’s surprisingly strong campaign in its inaugural West season helped make the conference just as sturdy as it has been in years past. Add in terrific seasons for Canterbury’s 15th-ranked Air Force and No. 11 Colorado State and the league was loaded with more than enough talent to fill out an impressive All-Conference Team.
West All-Conference 1st-Team Forwards:
Jaron Beerlire, prop, Colorado State:A 2nd-Team performer in 2015, Beerlire beefed up his game to make the 1st-Team cut this season. Not only a technician in the set piece, Beerlire was team captain and one of the most valued Rams.
Michael Lewis, prop, Wyoming: Lewis has been a stalwart in Wyoming’s forward pack for several years, and only upped his form during his senior season. A natural front row, Lewis has enough athleticism to play at the back of the scrum, as well.
Joe Carl, hooker, Air Force: Carl throws lineouts like darts and is known for creating turnovers at the breakdown. Still, the senior earned 1st-Team accolades for the excellent work he did in attack that isn’t always expected of hookers.
Anton Barlow, lock, Colorado State: Barlow continued to improve as the season went on, but was at it his very best against Utah State. The Aggies were proving to be a pesky out for the Rams until Barlow dotted down twice in the second half to eliminate the chance of an upset.
Austin Lyons, lock, Air Force: New to rugby, Lyons’ hard work earned him a starting position just before season’s start and he made good on his coaches’ confidence in him. Lyons didn’t miss a tackle and you can bet when he ran into contact he did so with both quality strength and technique.
Konisi Hosea, flanker, Utah State: Teams welcoming Utah State to the West Conference quickly found out the Aggies didn’t lack in the physicality department – and players like Hosea were a big reason why. Nearly impossible to bring down in a one-on-one situation, one West coach said his “players are still talking about him.”
Ryan Nedbailo, flanker, Colorado State: One-third of the Rams’ incredibly talented back row, Nedbailo was a difference maker during Colorado State’s four-point win over Air Force in which the blind side flanker bagged a pair of tries.
Marty Johnson, eight man, Utah State: Blessed with size and athleticism, Johnson’s productivity was enough for a 1st-Team selection. Add in all of the positive work he put in as the Aggies captain and you’ve got one of the most important forwards in the West Conference.
West All-Conference 1st-Team Backs:
Evan Clark, scrum half, Colorado: Last season’s Freshman of the Year, Clark consistently proved to be an accurate passer and fine decision maker around the rucks. He also won West coaches over by proving he isn’t afraid to clear out a ruck, too.
Connor Rezzonico, fly half, Wyoming: An ankle injury hampered much of Rezzonico’s career at Wyoming, but if his wheel was bothering him this season then he didn’t let it show. No player this season was more valuable to their team’s success on attack, and at least one opposing coach thought Rezzonico was the best defensive No. 10 in the conference.
Clifford Kindred, center, New Mexico: As the Lobos’ best player and team captain, opposing West sides were sure to game-plan around Kindred. Still, the inside center’s tough running earned him seven tries in five conference matches.
Liam Wynne, center, Colorado State: Wynne’s intelligence often kept the junior in the right place at the right time. However, it was his dynamic playmaking ability that took over from there, creating scoring opportunities for Rams fortunate enough to stay close enough to Wynne’s hip.
Dominic Rufran, wing, Wyoming: Forced to spend his share of time at full back after a season-ending injury to 2015 All-Conference full back Brendon Kozman, Rufran proved to be the fastest player, and maybe best overall athlete, in the conference.
Braden Smith, wing, Air Force: Smith has an extra gear that he used to his advantage to run past opposing wingers and propelled the junior to more tries than any other Zoomie this fall.
Casey Rothstein, full back, Air Force: As Air Force’s last line of defense, Rothstein’s tackling was so sure-handed the Zoomies still might have won a match or two this season if he was their only line of defense. If that wasn’t enough, Rothstein also recorded the second-most points for Air Force.
West All-Conference 2nd-Team Forwards:
AJ Hein, prop, Air Force: The anchor of Air Force’s scrum, Hein scored a try against Utah State and was named Man of the Match in the Zoomies’ win over New Mexico.
McCord Thorley, prop, Air Force: Thorley, a junior tight head, ran through a lot of attempted tackles and often stuffed opposing ball-runners – especially near his own goal line.
Gavin Moscone, hooker, Colorado: With the work rate of a flanker, Moscone got around the pitch with great persistence and obviously knew what to do when he arrived at a breakdown.
James Hanley, lock, Air Force: As Air Force’s biggest body, Hanley added a lot of muscle to the Zoomies’ scrum and was the team’s best lifter in the lineout. Hanley would have had a shot at being placed on the 1st-Team had he not missed a couple of games due to his duties as a participant of the National Constitutional Lam Competition.
Eli Mackay, flanker, Colorado: After a season that ended with a 1st-Team selection in 2015, Mackay settles for 2nd-Team this season – but was no less ferocious for the Buffaloes.
Zach Niro, flanker, Colorado: Niro is the spitting image of his fellow All-Conference Buffs flanker, Eli Mackay. Not only does the All-Conference duo share the same lean build, but Niro gobbled up just as many tackles as his Bash Brother in the backrow.
Josh Collins, eight man, Colorado State: Collins used his physical strength to create go-forward ball from the back of the scrum all season for the Rams. Both intelligent and skilled, Collins’ line breaks were typically used to send teammates under the posts, except for the match against Wyoming when the sophomore went off for a pair of tries.
West All-Conference 2nd-Team Backs:
Dylan Brown, scrum half, Air Force: The quick ball Air Force received in attack this season can be greatly attributed to Brown’s consistent play. Loaded with a fast and accurate delivery, the senior also delegated duties around the ruck very well.
Lawrence D’Agostino, fly half, Air Force: Playing one of the deepest positions in the conference, D’Agostino’s 2nd-Team selection is a good indication of just how strong the fly half position was in the West this season. The senior was the orchestrator of Air Force’s attack, often spotting weaknesses in defenses and exploiting them.
Jeff Clark, center, Utah State: Equally talented as a ball runner and passer, Clark gave his team plenty of attacking options in the back line and made the Aggies very difficult to game plan around.
Conner Peterson, center, Utah State: It’s not often a coach will describe an underclassman as the team’s “hardest worker.” But that’s exactly how Utah State Head Coach Zac Root described his sophomore outside center.
Ben Hirschmann, wing, Colorado: Once Hirschmann’s rugby IQ and tackling caught up with his lightning quick speed the sophomore began to make a real impact for the Buffaloes in 2016.
Kipp Nilson, full back, Colorado: Surrounded by a lot of youth, Nilson was not only a calming presence for the Buffs but also their best playmaker. Capable of playing several positions, Nilson was also a sure-tackler wherever he lined up.
West Forward of the Year – Oliver Jenkins, Colorado State:
No Ben Pinkelman? No problem. Jenkins has been known around Fort Collins, Colo., as a terrific flanker for a few years now, but with Pinkelman sitting out the season following shoulder surgery, the senior took his game to new heights. Jenkins is a great tackler and very active around the breakdown. Still, it was his dynamism with ball in hand that separated him from the rest of the West pack. During Colorado State’s final three games, Jenkins found the try zone eight times.
West Back of the Year –Mitch Cochell, Air Force:
The Zoomies were dealt a difficult blow when it lost 2015 1st-Team center and captain Ben Burmester to an injury at the beginning of the season. Air Force’s season could have spiraled into mediocrity, but Cochell’s emergence as the new captain and primary playmaker in the midfield redirected the team’s path towards a Conference Championship.
West Academic Achievement Award – Chase Bocksturck, Air Force & Sam Jacobs, Wyoming:
Bockstruck nearly missed out on the All-Conference team for his play as an eight man, but still finds his way on the list of the West’s best for his diligence away from the pitch. Bockstruck scored three tries for this Zoomies this year, but even more impressive is his 3.69 GPA while majoring in Management and minoring in French.
As a loose head prop, Jacobs played his role in making Wyoming’s scrum more than respectable in 2016. Still, the senior Microbiology major didn’t keep his time spent on the scrum sled from earning a 3.38 GPA – just good enough to beat out Architectural Engineering teammate, Caymen Perrault.
West Player of the Year –Joel Conzelmann, Colorado State:
The Rams had a void to fill in its back line in terms of skill and experience after the graduation of both its All-Conference half backs, Lance Eberhard and Carmine Hernandez. Enter fly half Joel Conzelmann. After an All-Conference career in the Big Ten playing for Michigan, Conzelmann packed up his kit bag for the Rocky Mountains to suit for Colorado State and earn a graduate degree. As a savvy veteran, Conzelmann controlled matches with poise in the pocket, an impeccable tactical kicking game and precise distribution of the ball. Conzelmann kept Colorado State’s scoreboard ticking with an accurate boot off of the tee, totaling in 50 points for the former Wolverine.