The Deep South Rugby conference is under one week away from kick off, and the anticipation is starting to set in. After a disappointing finish last year with a forfeit in the conference championship, teams are hungry to claim the top spot. Here are the predicted finishes and preview.
1) University of Louisiana Lafayette 2014 Record: 5-1
Key Players: Rod Blouin, Zach Bourque, Giancarlo Rodriguez, Nicholas Jarrett and Murphy Bell
ULL was a dominant force in the Deep South Conference last year as they rolled over nearly every opponent in their path. Their only loss from the 2014 season came from the skilled LA Tech in the closing minutes of the game. ULL brings a double threat with their attack as they bolster a large, athletic forward pack and a small but very quick and agile back line. The only weak spot in the Rajun’ Cajuns is the amount of newcomers that have joined the team and haven’t quite picked up the game yet. Captain Rudi Spurlock still has high expectations for his team. He explained, “Our expectations this year are to win. Simple as that. We have a tradition at UL of using the field as much as possible on offense and playing smash-mouth, hard-hitting rugby on defense, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do again this year. We lost a lot of experienced player in the past 2 seasons, but we have done well at recruiting some outstanding talent. The new guys have incredible athleticism, but don’t know the game very well yet. By the time the season starts, we hope to have these new guys well educated on the game of rugby.”
2) Louisiana Tech University 2014 Record: 6-1
Key Players: Thomas Savoie, Ben Lopata, Will Crawford, Michael Tullis, Nathan Martinez and Coulter Knowles
La Tech had a remarkable turn around last season as they went from finishing near last in 2013, to one of the power houses of the conference. The main reason Tech performed so well was due to an increase in numbers. Now that those same high numbers are returning with experience, the Bulldogs are sure to be contenders for the conference final. Another strong point for the team is that their 8-man, Will Crawford, spent his summer playing rugby in New Zealand and will surely be bringing back some new skills he picked up to share with the team. Crawford is ready to repeat and get back to the final. He said, “We look to build off what was a successful season last year. In a nut shell, Tech Rugby is focused on reaching the final again and hopefully continuing on to the national tournament.”
3) Tulane University 2014 Record: 5-1
Key Players: Billy Stewart, Jamon Brown, Zannie Black, Henry Adams and Austin Cheatwood
Tulane ended last fall on a promising note as they won the Battleship Invitational Tournament. The forward pack mainly revolves around the athletic footwork of 8-man Billy Stewart, but the back line can be dangerous when used. The team will open and end their season with two tough opponents, ULL and La Tech respectively. Current team treasurer, Brian Book, is happy with the experience the team has heading into the season. ” We are very excited about both the experience that we have in our pack as well as the players we have returning from our back line. Last year was a good season for the club, now it is important for us to forget about it and take on the challenges that the new season presents us,” explained Book.
4) Spring Hill College 2014 Record: 3-3
Key Players: Jacob Campos, Eric Miniclier, Christian Cage and Jimmy Regan
After a rocky 2014 fall season, the Badgers have a completely new look. Two key transfers, Jimmy Regan and Christian Cage, and a stellar freshman recruiting class, have helped the Badgers morph into a rock solid squad. The team is coming off of an impressive weekend as they lost to Auburn in the closing seconds and held UAB to no scores. SHC will be the sleeper team to look out for in the conference. Coach Justin Goonan is out to keep the team on track to reach their goals and improve from last fall. He explained, “Our team vision is for more consistent performances and to raise our key performance indicators (goals) for each outing.”
5) University of South Alabama 2014 Record: 2-4
Key Players: Brett Halbe, Jordan Johnson, Hunter Pinneo and David Fillingim
South had a rough 2014 season and struggled with numbers for road games that lead them to forfeit a few times, but they have just named a new head coach, Phil Dembowski, which might turn things around. The key to South’s attack revolves around the trio of Halbe, Pinneo and Fillingim. Halbe and Pinneo try to find daylight inside and if that gets shutdown, they look to Fillingim to open it up on the wing. Hooker Jordan Johnson has a ton of confidence in this year’s team. He explained, “Last year was a rough patch for us, but we plan to build on it by realizing mistakes and correcting them. We will have speed on the outsides with strength, support and cohesiveness all around.”
6) Troy University 2014 Record: 2-4
Key Players: Yorick Hessing, Dillon Lindsey and Cody Brooks
Troy is known for their forward heavy, pick and go style of play, and they’ll probably look to continue that heading into the 2015 season. Troy is all about the forwards, but boast that they have several players with raw talent, so a new back line might be in the mix. Troy rugby veteran, Yorick Hessing, is ready to put Troy rugby back on the map. “Our expectations of the season is to be competitive in the hunt for a Conference championship. We really want to build on what we have accomplished last year and keep on recruiting new athletes to play Rugby. The main goal is to establish a leadership with the incoming freshman so that they can continue the Troy Rugby legacy,” explained Hessing.
7) University of Southern Mississippi 2014 Record: 0-6
Key Players: Max Alberts and Thomas Stephens
Not much can be said about the Golden Eagles based off of their efforts last season. They forfeited every game. The team has some bright stars working with the squad, but they struggled to get enough numbers throughout all of last season. If Southern Miss gets organized and gets a solid 15 man roster, then maybe they can starting working towards a higher place in conference Until that happens, they’ll unfortunately be sitting in the bottom of the pile. Ryan Dufrene, team president, feels this year is different. He said, “We expect to establish a consistence squad that will compete in our division and we want to build upon strategies and developments made in the sevens series.”