KENNESAW, Ga. – The University of Central Florida will attempt to collect its third consecutive Division 1AA National Championship Saturday, May 9. After defeating Lindenwood in 2013 and Arizona last spring in the D1AA Finals, the Knights have the University of California – Davis standing in the way of their three-peat.
After a 5-1 regular season mark and another South Independent Rugby Conference Championship, Central Florida once again looks the part of an elite college rugby program – regardless of division.
So how does a team without a longstanding history of excellence and minimal financial resources become so dominant?
“The common thread of these teams has been the hard work they’ve put in,” said coach Ken Lindsay.
With a reputation of being very large and extremely physical, the team’s fitness and ability to play a full 80 minutes at full speed has taken a backseat to the squad’s easier-to-detect size advantage.
The two-time defending National Championship team has also proven to be just that – a team. For example, last year James Boozer and Christian Rossi were back line players, staying clear of set pieces and scoring tries after the forward pack carried out the laboring chore of setting a sturdy platform. However, following the graduation of nine seniors, including six starters, there was a need for able bodies in the tight five, and Boozer and Rossi were quick to raise their hands. This season, the duo can be found in the second and third row, making the difficult tackles and allowing others to do the side-stepping in the back line.
UC Davis, on the other hand, wasn’t close to sniffing out postseason rugby after being overmatched in the D1A’s California Conference. It now seems that the team’s move to D1AA and rebirth of a winning culture was all that was needed to place the Aggies back in the national state.
While one couldn’t fault a team for fleeing a conference that has been dominated by Saint Mary’s, Davis doesn’t think the step down in competition is what has propelled the team to a National Championship run.
“They are a real team now, where in the past the players weren’t really close with one another, and that’s had a lot to do with our success,” said Head Coach Mike Purcell. “They’re a real tight group now.”
This year’s Davis team should enter Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University brimming with confidence after easily handling Western Washington and Arkansas in the round of eight and D1AA Semifinals, respectively. Regardless of the self-assurance, the Aggies understand Central Florida is seeking its third National Championship in as many years for a reason.
“They’re a big, strong team,” declared Purcell. “They have some big guys, but they also have speed. They’ll be a challenge.”
In the same light, don’t anticipate the Aggies to lose any sleep over the fact that their opponent will be bigger and more experienced.
“Our players are worried about what we need to take care of,” added Purcell. “I don’t think our team gets intimidated, and they just go out and play.”
No one expects a team with a championship pedigree to be unsettled at Saturday’s opening whistle of the D1AA Final, as Central Florida is also keen to concern itself with only the matters it can control.
“To be honest, we don’t know much about Davis,” said Lindsay. “Our focus is on doing what we do and playing our game.”
The May 9 D1AA National Championship Final is scheduled to kick off at noon ET at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University, and will be available to watch live on USA Rugby TV.
2015 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships | Schedule of Events
Women’s DII Final: Notre Dame College v UC Riverside – 10 a.m. ET on USA Rugby TV
Men’s D1AA Final: Central Florida v UC Davis – noon ET on USA Rugby TV
Women’s DI Final: Penn State v Central Washington – 2 p.m. ET on USA Rugby TV
Men’s D1A Final: Life v Saint Mary’s – 4 p.m. ET on ESPN 3