LAFAYETTE, Colo. – There might not be a team playing in the opening round of the D1A Playoffs as talented as Lindenwood. The Lions have been ranked No. 3 in the Canterbury D1A Top 20 the entire season, and have been rewarded with an opening round Playoff match at home against Rugby East’s Wheeling Jesuit.
The 17th-ranked Cardinals finished in the middle of their conference pack, beating the teams they were supposed to on their way to a 4-3 record, but were unable to pick off a first true Rugby East scalp. Wheeling Jesuit did enough to make its second consecutive D1A Playoff appearance, but there won’t be too many Cardinals taking the pitch against Lindenwood with postseason experience.
All-Rugby East performers Max Lum and Zach Reichenbach graduated out of the program after the fall semester, and standouts Allan Hanson and Peter Malcolm have accepted PRO Rugby contracts. The influx of new personnel into the Cardinals’ first XV has made for an up-and-down spring semester.
“Our mixed results this spring have been a combination of turnover within the squad, injuries, and several players moving on to higher rugby honors,” said Wheeling Jesuit Head Coach Tal Bayer. “This has resulted in a younger team having to step up much earlier than expected. The average age of our starting lineup this spring is roughly 19- to 20-year-old sophomores.”
Even with the departure of a few key players, Wheeling Jesuit’s cupboard of skilled players is far from empty. Junior lock Hugh McAllister will captain the Cardinals, and Cecil Rich is one of the more talented forwards in the country. In the backs, Chris and Joji Vakasisikakala are dangerous steppers.
The Lindenwood coaching staff hasn’t seen much of the Cardinals on film, but enough to know they can be dangerous.
“They have put up some impressive scores this year, and seem to have a strong, well-coached side,” said Lindenwood assistant James Harrison, who is taking over head coaching duties while Director of Rugby JD Stephenson leads the Junior All-Americans in their pursuit of a World Rugby U20 Trophy.
“They play in a very competitive conference, and will definitely test Lindenwood in every facet of the match. We look forward to a good competitive match of rugby.”
Like Wheeling Jesuit, Lindenwood won’t have its full compliment of players. Four of its brightest young athletes, including recently capped Eagle Lorenzo Thomas, have been tabbed for the Junior All-Americans heading to Zimbabwe, but the Lions should have plenty of depth to make amends.
“Having those four players away for our matches is a loss, but we think we have the right guys to get the job done,” said Harrison. “We have some players in different positions. They’re in those positions because we are looking for work rate from them, and know they will deliver. It will have to be a team effort.”
Any number of players on Lindenwood’s insanely deep roster are capable of making game-changing plays, but loose forward Wesley Parker is especially talented, and center Gabe Farley, who was the team’s most consistent player a season ago, is one to watch.
“We are facing a Lindenwood squad with talent, size, skill and power,” complimented Bayer. “This is going to be a tough game for us.”
The winner of April 16’s match pitting the Mid-South and Rugby East will play Big Ten Universities Champion Indiana in the April 23 D1A Quarterfinals.