BOULDER, Colo. – The University of Michigan wants to test itself out of the gates this fall, and a thorough examination is exactly what the Wolverines will receive in tonight’s nonconference encounter with Humber College of Ontario.
Coming off a fifth consecutive Ontario Colleges Athletic Association Championship, the juggernauts from Toronto will feature an experienced and skilled side capable of giving just about any team stateside all they can handle.
“It will be a huge test, no doubt about it – especially with how young we will be this year,” said Michigan’s second-year coach Brandon Sparks. “But pressure can do two things: break pipes or make diamonds, and these young players need to learn how to conduct themselves in that kind of environment because come Big Ten time, it will be a weekly occurrence.”
The timing of the match will indeed benefit the Wolverines ahead of their six conference matches in the Big Ten Universities Conference. However, facing a veteran side with a championship pedigree in a season opener will be a challenging task to say the very least.
“Our mindset is focused on developing and perfecting our process that will lead to results, not just the results themselves,” explained Sparks. “These boys have been only running against each other for the last two weeks, so the chance to play a top side like Humber is going to put a marker down on where we are in our process.”
The process that Sparks speaks of might go into the BTU Conference schedule, as the Wolverines graduated a number of influential players – including the team’s half back connection in fly half Joel Conzelmann and scrum half John Palladino. Conzelmann, whose impact on the program was felt not only in his point-scoring abilities, but also his leadership, will create a noticeable void. Fortunately, Sparks and his staff have a steady hand taking over the No. 10 jersey in Tohy Rakotovololona. The British-born fly half, along with full back Andre Cargill, who spent the summer training in New Zealand, will be leaned on to provide enough poise to ease some of the nerves of younger teammates.
Regardless of the end result, the 80 minutes against Humber will harden a Michigan roster that lacks a ton of D1A experience. Considering Michigan’s opponents over the next month, the calluses that will be earned against Humber should go a long way in battle-testing last year’s fourth-place team from the Big Ten. After Friday night’s cross-border clash, the Wolverines travel to Notre Dame to face another stern test from the Fighting Irish. Following a second consecutive nonconference match, Michigan opens Big Ten play against in-state rival Michigan State, and then host preseason conference favorite Indiana.
“The match will give us a better idea of where we need to go to compete in the Big Ten,” Sparks said. “Plus, who doesn’t love a good Canada-versus-American matchup?”
The Friday night match frees up players and coaches alike to attend Saturday’s test match between the USA Eagles and World Rugby’s second-ranked Australia Wallabies at Soldier Field.