COACHES CORNER: PRESEASON REVIEW
Head Coach Sean Duffy and Assistant Coach Jack Arnold in action at the PAC Rugby Sevens Championship last month.
By Sean Duffy
Dec 13- It's December here in Tucson which means finals, planning for the coming Spring, and the pain of 60 degree weather. What a hard life right? But what it also means is no formal training right now with our boys in full academic mode, so I wanted to take a minute to give you coach's take on the preseason. We received a lot of positive feedback last year as this is something we don't do very often, so my hope is this will give you my take on our preseason, some players who shined, and the coming Spring.
2016 PRESEASON: PROGRAM GROWTH AND PUPPIES
The two big items of change on the day-to-day side for us this Fall revolve around our team size and our strength and conditioning program. Arizona has a rich history of having large programs under the leadership of the late great Dave Sitton, so our hope is to continue that tradition by providing different types of opportunities to players. My first day at training in January 2014, we had 37 players. Well that group has grown exponentially, and between our recruitment efforts and the rise of the sport's profile, we finish the preseason with just under 100 active players and less than five seniors. This has led to our fielding of three full teams, and our Developmental Side joining the Rio Grande Conference in Division II. From their win over UTEP in the Sun Bowl to their sweep of the two Arizona schools, our third side has definitely impressed and you'll hear about some of the key guys below.
If we're going to grow though, we want to grow strong and from a literal standpoint we've definitely secured that this year with the hiring of Bryan Shook as our Strength & Conditioning Coach. Coach Bryan has done an incredible job with our boys, making them stronger and faster and it's already paid dividends on the field. This carries on from the great work done by Jack Arnold, allowing him to shift to focusing on our backline and Sevens. All of this takes place in a private weight room for the team made possible by the university that, while it doesn't belong exclusively to us, we'll be working to upgrade so that all of the teams that use it for their private lifts get their pump on right. All of this is just the next step in our continued effort to be the best we can on and off the field.
Finally I would be remiss if I didn't thank University of Arizona Club Sports and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona for partnering with us on the Red-Blue Game this year. This outside the box idea started last year when we wanted to turn Red-Blue in to a positive platform, and what better cause then the Humane Society. To have puppies running around the stadium complex and help spur people to adopt and donate made it a great day. We'll partner again with them next Fall and hope to make it even bigger and better.
FIFTEENS- BUILDING THE NEXT GENERATION
As most can guess our primary goal for these Fall fifteens matches is not to win. Our primary goal is to develop players for the coming season but more specifically, develop them for the coming years. The vast majority of key players in these matches are Freshmen and Sophomores, so these matches are a perfect environment to play, make mistakes, learn, and get a feel for what it means to have that Block A on your chest. Having said that, we're thrilled to win and for the boys to go undefeated at both junior varsity and developmental side levels is an impressive feat. I'm a believer that you really do have to learn how to win when you rise up a level to college rugby and this gave guys a chance to do that. The two that jump to mind in this environment are Anton Grigoriou and Jake Hedge, who gave our fans a really nice preview of what's to come against in the 60-14 Junior Varsity victory over Arizona State JV in October. While this was their only Fifteens match since both were in the Sevens pool, they put on an absolute show, demonstrating their great natural ability, leadership, and a number of items we've been working with them on. It's not a surprise that both were invited to USA Under-20s camp this next week (more on that soon).
The guy I would really like to take a minute to shine some light on is Lucas Bartzis. Lucas showed up to us in August from Chicago with no rugby footage and some football highlights. The guy has continued to impress week in and week out, scoring numerous tries and making a lot of key defensive plays at both the Developmental and Junior Varsity levels. Lucas is a great example of the stark reality of college rugby. While recruiting makes a definite impact, when they get to you, where they come from has to be irrelevant. The best players play. Lucas has quickly emerged as a serious Center to watch for the future.
SEVENS- HISTORY MADE TWICE
While Fifteens is important to Fall, Sevens is equally vital to the preseason and this was a history making few months for our program. To host the PAC Rugby Sevens Championship for the first time is a great step, and to receive tremendous positive feedback from both coaches and the PAC-12 Network is a great feeling. We host next year's event in November before we will pass the torch to the next hosts, and it's such a sign of how Rugby operates to see all of the PAC-12 coaches come together and be so positive about building an event to market our conference, our teams, and our sport. Shoutout to our high school and youth teams who competed in that bracket as well, making it a great weekend.
A big highlight of the Fall was our West Coast Sevens Championship. It's a great step for our boys and to win it for the first time in program history is a nice achievement. Between the big contributions from veterans like Kyle Rogers and Ben Joseph, to the new faces like Ryan Hudson and Ben Scoular, we have set ourselves up well for the coming Collegiate Rugby Championship this June on NBC. We've finished top three each of the past two years, and with so many faces returning and the next step taken by many, we have our sights set high.
2017- TIME TO STAND UP
This is going to be a big year for us. Since I arrived in 2014, we've slowly been able to bring in and build the type of player that fits our structure in attack and defense. We went young when I first got here and with a lot of those guys growing up, it's time for us to capitalize on that experience. They figuratively crawled as young players, and now it's time to stand up.
In terms of players to watch, there are a few guys who had fantastic preseasons, with Sean Coleman and Tyler Hansen being two of those in the Forwards. Sean has put on some good muscle and is playing with confidence after being a USA U20 last year, and this has led to a growth in his leadership and the Vice Captaincy. Tyler was our Mark Shively winner last year as our top Freshman, and has taken the next step physically this Fall, showing off some new speed in the Red-Blue Game that put everyone on notice. In the backline, I think you're going to really enjoy seeing our backline work together as they've built some continuity this Fall. A couple guys to watch for me would be Ryan Hudson who put together a pretty impressive preseason in Sevens and Kyle Rogers, who continues to grow as a player and leader and is going to be hugely impactful to what we do.
We have a challenging schedule again, and I'm encouraged to see the PAC not only expand but join D1A as a whole. It'll eliminate at least some of the confusion around different competitions and add two great PAC-12 universities to the docket in Stanford and USC. Our goal this year is a conference title and national championship, and we know we play in the toughest conference in the country so that is a gauntlet. We're looking forward to getting started.
See you all at Sitton Field January 14th!
To view the full schedule, head to our Schedule & Results page.