Liberty Conference Challenge Preview

D1A Rugby: Liberty Conference Challenge Preview
Photo Credit: RJB Sport

This Saturday, November 17 at Fairfield University, the Liberty Conference will host its second Liberty Challenge. Eight games will be played in total, culminating in the first ever Liberty Conference Championship Match between UMass and AIC. With games kicking off at 8:00am ET and the championship game kicking off at 7:30pm ET, it promises to be a day filled with entertaining rugby and you’ll be able to catch it all through Next Level Rugby’s live stream.

 

Conference Championship UMASS vs. AIC:

In the first conference championship, it will be two teams from Massachusetts butting heads for the title. Both teams enter the championship game on the back of two strong performances. For UMass, they come into the fixture after blowing the doors off Binghamton, 71-7. While for AIC they come in after a tremendous display of resiliency and finishing power, after beating Syracuse, 43-38. During the win, they didn’t gain the lead until the 2nd half and scored 29 in the final 40 minutes. Both teams will face an enormous test when they face each other on Saturday and it will likely come down to who executes the little things effectively.

For AIC, who are currently in their first year of playing at the D1A level, winning the match this weekend would be the dream end to the dream debut. Corey Momsen, AIC’s head coach described the season thusly, “It’s incredible, especially with it being our first year in D1A. It was something that we’ve been striving for all year and we’re excited and ready to compete for the conference title.” The journey hasn’t been without some bumps and bruises along the way. They started their season off at 1-1-1 and it looked as if their season may have been over as soon as it started. However, by closing their season out with two big wins against Delaware and Stony Brook helped secure their spot in the playoffs.

UMass, on the other hand, after losing to Iona in their first match have not looked back. They have reeled off 7 consecutive wins, with an average winning margin of 47 points. Their last match against Binghamton was meant to be their first test since the Iona game. However, having won in such a convincing and dominating style, the question of how will they respond to adversity remains. This could be one area where they come up short in comparison to AIC, as AIC has had to fight from the beginning of their season right up until now. Teams throughout the Liberty Conference are all too aware of what they can do when their backs are up against the wall, UMass will need to find a way to answer AIC’s determination.

One of the issues that AIC encountered against Syracuse in their semifinal, was a case of mistaken identity. For the first 40 minutes they did not play within their systems and were at times guilty of playing out of their structures, falling for the traps Syracuse lay. They were able to mitigate the damage and launch an impressive second half turnaround, but they may not be afforded the same opportunities against UMass. Momsen noting that one of the factors towards winning this weekend will be remembering who they are and what got them here. “Keys to success will be remembering who we are, trying not to do too much, and incorporating the lessons learned from each game.”

The tone last week for UMass was set by their strong number eight, Terry Cullen. Cullen proved to be an elusive ball runner finding gaps in and around the defensive lines to score a hat trick. Most of those holes were created by strong forward play and soaking up defenders through initiating meaningful contact. AIC is prepared for a physical confrontation in the pack and to some extents are relishing the opportunity to take the challenge to UMass. “They put up 70 something points up on Binghamton, we can’t treat them lightly. I definitely think they’re a big aggressive powerful forward team. I think I’ve prepared my guys just right for the game.”

Momsen has found a couple of areas that he thinks his men will match up well against UMass, but keeping his cards close to his chest he knows that they are a complete team from 1-15 and they can’t afford to expect any guaranteed mismatches, as soon as they do they’ll fall into a trap of complacency.   

In both camps, butterflies will have been running rampant all week, but Momsen has tried to calm AIC’s nerves by sticking to their traditional practice structure and keeping the mood light hearted towards the back end of training.

It will be an enthralling display of collegiate rugby, and the secret for both teams will be to get out to an early lead. AIC known UMass hasn’t played without a lead for almost the entirety of the season, if they can make them uncomfortable early on it could work to their advantage. UMass will know the worst time to encounter anything for the first time is in the championship match, and so will be doing all they can to avoid the scenario. Expect points to flow almost as frequently as the big hits up front.

Challenge Matches:

Syracuse and Binghamton will square off for the third place in the Liberty Conference. Both teams will need to rebound after suffering different, but equally agonizing defeats last weekend. For Syracuse, it’s about how well they can recover from playing arguably their best game of the season, but lack of execution in a few critical moments of the game cost them. For Binghamton, it will be about how easy is it to put such a significant loss, both in terms of quantity and significance, behind them. These two teams have a heated rivalry, so don’t be surprised if things get physical and tensions rise.

In what will be the marquee game outside of the championship game, #12 Iona and #18 St. Bonaventure squaring off. Both teams will have something to prove, for Iona it is that they deserve to be in the Top 10 nationally, for St. Bonaventure it is they deserve to be ranked higher than they currently are. A win here will go a long way towards both of those teams proving their points. It is each team’s last game for the fall, and with depleted Spring schedules this could be their last opportunity to plead their case to the voters prior to the playoffs.

Other games taking place will see Fordham and Northeastern squaring up in what will be a brutally physical encounter. Players from both sides will likely still be feeling the effects of that game after Thanksgiving. Colgate will take the hosts, Fairfield, on. Both teams showed promise throughout the year, but an inability to string consistent performances together ultimately is what caused their unravelling. Albany and UConn will fight each other for the right to finish with a winning record, as both teams enter with a 3-3 record. Stony Brook and Tufts will both search for their second win of the season. Rhode Island will search for their first win of the year against Cortland.

 

Schedule of Games

8:00amCortland Rhode Island
9:30 AMStony BrookTufts
11:00 AMAlbanyUConn
12:30 PMColgateFairfield
2:00 PMFordhamNortheastern
3:30 PMSt. BonaventureIona
5:30 PMBinghamtonSyracuse
7:30 PMUMass AmherstAIC