Let the chase begin. / Photo: JJ Fagan
Consider the first rankings of the DII college fall season a starting point. There’s a lot of movement in this competition realm, both in terms of activity and also the shaping of leagues. Teams that have proven themselves over years will find themselves at the top of the ranking, and leagues that have traditionally performed well at the regional playoff stage will also be represented. And then the weeks to come will continually refine the rankings until the USA Rugby DII College Fall Championship in early December.
An aside: USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez indicated that the site for the college fall championships on Dec. 1-2 will be announced shortly. IF it’s in the southeast region again, then consider extending your trip for the WRCRA Women in Rugby Conference, which TRB intends to attend.
The top-four teams fall into the “proven over time” category. Reigning fall champ Winona State and Vassar – which played an incredible final last year – top the list. Black Katts had its Northern Lights opener turn into a forfeit, and Vassar’s posted two shutouts already. Coast Guard got out the nerves against Hartford and will spend the season refilling the gaps left by nine graduates. And Cincinnati is back with loads of returners and near-equal amount of newcomers. Its first win against Ball State was technically a forfeit, but its shutout victory over Ohio University was not.
Colorado Mesa impressed in its opener against Colorado School of Mines, but there’s concern about the four-team conference, now that Northern Colorado and Idaho State have forfeited games and future fixtures. Hopefully Mesa and Mines can schedule more playing time.
Rugby Northeast has three reps on the rankings, but one of them hails from the now-defunct New England Small College conference. Colby did well in last year’s post-season but graduated an important group of forwards, meaning play will differ this year and set pieces will need time to solidify. Nevertheless, the team beat St. Michael’s College 31-27, lending a nice lift to a semi-rebuilding year. Stonehill posted a shutout in week one, and Bryant beat NIRA’s New England to earn a spot on the list.
Upstate New York has a few 2-0 teams, and for now last year’s finalists, Buffalo State and Cortland, nab spots on the rankings. Read more about Cortland’s positive start and the alumna-turned-coach who’s readying the team. Although there are several DII/NSCRO hybrid leagues like this across the country, this conference’s small schools opting to play “up” are not the weak links.
In the Mid-Atlantic, it’s no surprise to see leaders Bloomsburg and Kutztown setting the tone. Neither has allowed more than 10 points in the four games between them, although the Bears’ second win was a forfeit. Grand Valley State reps the Great Lakes, did well against DI Notre Dame in the teams’ pre-season match, and then banked a big shutout to start the season. Great Waters played a round of cross-pool friendlies last weekend, and last year’s champ, UW La Crosse, won big. This is a large competition, though, so there are lots of teams to watch.
Allegheny’s Youngstown State is in its first official DII season and did well in its win over West Virginia (read more). Reigning champ IUP plays DI Kent State this weekend, while the Penguins take on Slippery Rock, providing some more perspective on the league. University of Penn represents the Ivy League, which will send its club victor to DII playoffs, and Eastern Kentucky and Vermont make the list after solid openers.
Lone Star, which has now left stand-alone Lone Star conference and aligned with the Texas Rugby Union, is not on the list because nine teams are competing in a DI competition, with the remainder playing a fall 7s circuit. Illinois, too, is absent for bowing out of last year’s playoffs at the Round of 32 phase, but still being tracked.
Finally, don’t forget that conferences like Capital and Carolinas, which will contest fall league games, aren’t featured because they compete toward the DII spring championships.