LAFAYETTE, Colo. – It should be of little surprise that two Mid-South teams will again meet in the Semifinals of the D1A Playoffs. The compact but increasingly talented conference continues to thrive in the postseason, and has produced a Life-versus-Lindenwood Semifinal for the second year in a row.
No team has been as consistently impressive this season than the No. 1-ranked Running Eagles. Navy was able to give Life a good game back in February, but no team has really made Life sweat other than Lindenwood. The Lions held a late lead at home before Running Eagle center Cody Melphy scored the equalizing try, and the subsequent conversion at full time kept Life perfect on the season.
“I think Lindenwood had a well-thought-out approach to the entire experience there for us,” Life Head Coach Scott Lawrence said of his team’s last-second March 19 win.
The Lindenwood program is not yet five years old, but its still eager to claim its first National Championship in 15s. 2014 marked the Lions’ first Semifinal appearance – a 72-7 thumping at the hands of eventual champion Saint Mary’s. Last year it was Life preventing them from reaching the Final in another afternoon they didn’t perform up to their standard.
Now with a College 7s National Championship under its belt and a group of upperclassmen who have come one match short of a 15s Final on multiple occasions, third-ranked Lindenwood knows only its very best shot will stand a chance against Life.
“We have reviewed our successes from our previous meeting, but Life will be well-prepared and we cannot count on what worked last time,” said assistant coach James Harrison, who is leading the Lions while Director of Rugby JD Stephenson heads the Junior All-Americans at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Zimbabwe.
One aspect of their game they’ll want to improve is ball retention in an attempt to prevent Life from dictating the match.
“Life has some great game managers, and if we allow them to control the tempo and flow of the match Lindenwood will be at a definite disadvantage,” Harrison said.
While Stephenson has a few of Lindenwood’s young stars with him in Africa, there is still plenty of talent throughout its roster. There is not weakness in the Lions’ back line – nine through 15. Fly half Lunaile Tshuma is a superb goal-kicker, and has been the team’s most steady hand this semester. On the outside, Deion Mikesell is an explosive winger who already has an international try to his name.
In the forwards, junior eight man Tama Paogofie-Buyten is coming into his own, and senior All-American Mikey Gierlach provides great leadership in the engine room.
Life is a team that doesn’t depend on superstar individuals for its results, and seemingly has a new player step up in a big way each Saturday. Last week, it was sophomore Maciu Koroi who made his presence known by scoring a pair of tries in the Running Eagles’ 44-0 Quarterfinal shutout of Davenport.
Koroi is just one of many underclassmen playing a major role for Life this season, but they wouldn’t be nearly as prepared if it weren’t for the upperclassmen.
“There is leadership in the student-athlete ranks who know the process,” Lawrence said. “Probably less about the younger student-athletes and more about the more experienced ones in this regard.”
Included in Life’s more experienced group are juniors Harley Davidson and Zander Van Schalkwyk, as well as senior hooker Zach Warren.
The second consecutive D1A Semifinal between Life and Lindenwood will be hosted by the Running Eagles and web streamed live. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and can been seen on the Life U Network.
The winner of April 30’s fixture will play the either Saint Mary’s or Utah in the D1A National Championship at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. The D1A Final will be one of five matches at the May 7 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships.