BOULDER, Colo. – Following a week of two-a-days, Arizona’s first XV took to the pitch for its first game of the season and earned a 59-3 win over Grand Canyon University.
Junior center Shane Dempsey kicked off the Wildcats’ scoring barrage less than five minutes into the match with a converted try. Before the opening half would come to a close, danger man Dante Weeks dotted down, followed by scores from freshmen Steve Branham and Ryan Fitzpatrick to help produce a 24-3 halftime advantage.
“We were fairly pleased with a number of things, notably our attacking mindset and the results of our renewed emphasis on the finer points of our defensive structure,” Head Coach Sean Duffy pointed out. “We have a long way to go, however, and lots to fix as we move into week two.”
A defensive clampdown refused to allow the ‘Lopes to add to its lone penalty goal, meanwhile, Ben Joseph, Lou MacLaughlin, and Bryce Mantell got themselves on the stat sheet with tries.
The lineup that scored nearly 60 points on Grand Canyon included a blend of upperclassmen and newer players to the program. Regardless of the impressive 56-point victory to open the season, Duffy maintains battles to suit up for the first XV are “always” taking place during training.
“Our second side featured a handful of great performances from players hoping to work their way into the first team,” Duffy said. “Our motto that we state with every selection announcement is, ‘If you like the team you’re on, prove us right. If you don’t – prove us wrong.’ It fosters a healthy competitive environment, and it’s something that helps us keep improving as a team.”
The positive outcome and attention to detail that went into Arizona’s first win couldn’t have come at a better time. Reigning D1A Rugby National Champion Saint Mary’s College is set to mix it up against the Wildcats Jan. 15 at William David Sitton Field on the Tucson, Ariz., campus. While the Gaels will be fired up to correct the mistakes they made in last week’s 44-3 loss to San Francisco Golden Gate, the encouraging scoreline from the win over Grand Canyon should only fuel the Wildcats preparation this week.
“The feeling is one of excitement, both for the team and personally,” mentioned Duffy of his camp’s mood this week. “Saint Mary’s was my very first game as Arizona coach in January 2015, and that year they went on to win the title. Friday will be a measure of where we are, where we’ve come since then.”
A few of the standouts from Arizona’s B-side could get a call-up to first XV duty against the Gaels with the assembly of a few dozen potential Men’s Junior All-Americans Jan. 15-18. The list of Junior All-American camp attendees has yet to be revealed, but after six young Wildcats competed in the December MJAA camp, it’s likely at least a few would be recalled for this weekend’s camp.
“It just means the next man up for us.”