THE CATS ARE BAcK: PreSEASON KICKS OFF
Antonio Gonzalez is one of several standouts that return for the Wildcats this season. (Photo credits: Jack Megaw)
Sept 19- The energy is high in the desert this month as 70+ athletes descend upon Tucson for the start of Arizona Rugby's preseason. While key seniors graduate, a large portion of the team returns with a standout first-year class and transfer haul set to bolster a Wildcat side that looks to take the next step.
The Wildcats have begun preparations for a loaded Fall semester which will feature both Fifteens and Sevens competition opportunities. "After the last 18 months, the boys need to play more, and we're thankful to find other like-minded institutions that felt the same" said Director of Rugby Sean Duffy who enters his ninth year at the helm of the Wildcats. The Arizona schedule is set to be announced this week with a few new and exciting opponents lined up for the side as they prepare for the 2023 season start in January.
Last year's Vice Captain is one of the headliners as 6'5" Lock James Rivers anchors the tight five. Zach Barker, one of the Wildcats' three all conference selections also returns at Hooker. A number of players look to take the next step in year two in the system, including Hooker Cameron Blair, Lock Aidan Hendry, and Flanker Breyton DePoint, amongst others.
Fresh off a season in which he won the Geoff Barnes award as the team's most valuable back, Scrumhalf/Flyhalf Maxime Cathala returns and looks to help lock down the vital 9-10 combo that graduates both Robert Figley and Lucas Agasse. EJ Freeman makes a shift in position after a Summer in which he featured for the USA Under-20 and Under-23 sides, moving in to the centers to give the Wildcats another dynamic athlete in the backs. Jacob Broselle, one of the standouts of the team's run to the Cup Quarterfinals of National Sevens Championships returns for year three and looks to be a major contributor for the side.
"It's always bittersweet to say goodbye to our Seniors. Guys like Jon Rogers and Robert Figley who helped navigate us through the pandemic. Talents like Kyle Fulton who have gone on to the pro ranks. Unsung heroes like Matthew Start that lifted the culture and kept it afloat, regardless of his role. But they, like our hundreds of alumni before them set the standard upon which the next generation build. We do return a lot of great talent, and bring in some new faces that we think can help us on day one" said Duffy.
The Wildcats finished 2nd in the PAC-12 last season and reached the first round of the D1A postseason before falling to BYU, finishing the season ranked 11th in the nation. In Sevens, Arizona reached the top eight with a team of predominantly underclassmen, creating a great deal of excitement for 2023. Arizona also made history with its first self-produced broadcast network, as matches were viewed in 48 states and 27 countries over the course of the season. The team also featured on national television twice, with strong performances on both NBC and PAC-12 Network. The Wildcats will welcome fans back to William David Sitton Field for the preseason opener next month, with last year's attendance-record season sending a signal that Tucson is ready for Rugby.