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Long Life Season to Peak

  • 20 Apr 2016

Darian Lovelace jumping against Florida HPP. /// Photo: Eyal Hakim


The DI Elite competition begins at the knockout stage, meaning the eight participants needed to fill their falls and springs with meaningful games. Six teams competed in their former DI conference’s regular season, and two played in their league’s championship. Those fixtures naturally segmented the year and provided multiple, tangible goals for the season. For independent teams like Life University and Lindenwood University, they had to create schedules from scratch and maintain a long, steady build toward the late-April playoffs.


“It seems like we’ve been playing 15s for a long time,” Life coach Ros Chou reflected on the August start date. “In the fall, the coaching staff made sure everyone played and got lots of reps, and it’s paid off. We’ve been experimenting with lineups this spring, and it’s cool to see the first-years in the mix. They’re stepping up, competent and able to play at the level we want.”


A prime example is first-year Brittany Wilcox, a Florida International University transfer who joined in the fall.


“She was new to our systems and took a little while to build up confidence,” Chou said. “She really surprised in 7s and made the top side in the [Atlanta Festival 7s] elite bracket. You can see the difference in her expression. She’s having fun and not as nervous. This season, she’s the one who’s surprised me.”


Chou intensified the spring preparation with multiple double-header weekends and games against senior clubs. Life defeated DI senior club Raleigh on day two of a double-header weekend, Florida High Performance team, and DI Pittsburgh, DII Kansas City Jazz and DII Nashville at Nash Bash.


“Bringing in some club teams has definitely helped in dealing with physicality and pace of game,” Chou said. “We’ve been concentrating on our defensive systems and have seen better height in the tackle and the breakdown, good leg drive – things that are hard to test against opponents that aren’t as physical.”


The Running Eagles took a one-week hiatus from 15s to train for and compete in the Atlanta 7s Festival. There, Life won the elite college bracket and played Lindenwood – its DI Elite quarterfinal opponent – in the process. The pair had played each other on Halloween and was eager to gauge improvements.


“I think we’re well matched. They’re a skilled team that we’re not taking lightly,” Chou said. “Life rugby is a one through 15 game. You’ll see it – our forwards are small and we have a similar body type across the board. We just use our mobility – not that Lindenwood isn’t a mobile team, but I’m not sure if we’re exactly the same.”


The starting lineup, which includes freshmen, is set for Lindenwood and reflects how the team wants to get the game started. Chou will make tactical substitutions to inject some experience as the game wages on. Saturday’s victor will face the winner of Penn State vs. Indiana on Sunday for a berth to DI Elite final on May 7.


“The energy has been bubbling up since the Monday 6 a.m. lift,” Chou said. “The strength-and-conditioning coach could tell that they’re getting really excited for the weekend. We’ve been doing our best to manage that excitement and harness it to really stay focused in practice. They’re just really overjoyed to have this opportunity.”


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