BOULDER, Colo. – An in-state rivalry will open Arizona’s spring season, and it’s not against traditional NCAA rival Arizona State. Second-year program Grand Canyon University, located in Phoenix, will be the side getting the first look at the Wildcats’ first XV.
Following a brief sevens campaign in the fall, which culminated in a Bowl victory at the PAC-12 Sevens, the entire Arizona roster has been switched on to 15s since the second week of November. Still, autumn clashes against Arizona State and Grand Canyon were used as developmental fixtures, making the Jan. 9 contest against the ‘Lopes the first time Arizona’s returning starters will run out together.
An inter-squad scrimmage concluded rugby activities ahead of finals, and the team ended its winter holiday early for a week of two-a-days. Needless to say, the Wildcats are ready to square up against someone in opposing colors.
“Grand Canyon is a quality opponent in our own backyard, and some bragging rights are on the line, too,” said Head Coach Sean Duffy. “Our guys are pumped to start the season.”
A club sport at the University, Grand Canyon does receive substantial financial support from the school, including one of the most comprehensive rugby scholarships offered to male athletes. The ‘Lopes’ ability to offer financial aid to potential recruits has drawn High School All-Americans to the Phoenix campus, but Duffy doesn’t necessarily see the rivalry as one with a tremendous amount at stake in terms of recruiting.
“Every game is important for recruiting,” Duffy explained. “GCU’s coaching staff is mostly Arizona Rugby alumni, so you know there’s bragging rights on the line there. I think I speak for [Grand Canyon Head Coach] Ryan Kelly in that both of us are just excited to get the season going, and establish a series with them so fans of the sport in the state will have some exciting rugby to watch every year on both campuses.”
Saturday’s opener against the ‘Lopes is just six days before the Wildcats host reigning back-to-back D1A National Champion Saint Mary’s. Even with a powerful Gaels squad traveling to Tucson, Ariz., in just a week’s time, Arizona is squarely focused on Grand Canyon.
“We’re focused on what’s in front of us,” Duffy confirmed. “We’re big on breaking the season down into chunks and setting goals within those we want to hit as a team. This is the first leg, so to speak. So, with matches in January against GCU, Saint Mary’s, Utah, and New Mexico – that will be a good first litmus test of where we are.”