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There are lots of questions to answer when the Air Force Academy (#14) rolls into Tucson to take on #9 Arizona in the D1-A opener for both teams.
Arizona has come very close at times to breaking past the higher-profile teams, but with the loss of Peter Tiberio, their most dangerous back, can they still keep pushing higher?
Air Force, for their part, are always a question-mark as they have struggled to harness effectively their athletes.
The Wildcats come into league play with some momentum after shutting out New Mexico State 41-0 last time out to bring their record to 3-2 overall.
"We are in the midst of the toughest schedule run in college rugby," remarked Arizona head Coach Dave Sitton. "In the last three weeks, we have taken on Cal and Army, two top-five programs. Now we have Air Force, another team with a great heritage and a couple of National Championships on their resume. We will need to improve greatly from our last two outings."
Meanwhile Air Force comes into the game with momentum as well after handling Colorado Springs fairly easily last weekend, beating them 40-26. Arizona is 5-9 against the Zoomies all-time, but last time out it was the Wildcats who got the best of Air Force, edging them in a close 35-29 contest in the regular season finale.
“It’s always fun to play a well coached school like Arizona,” said Air Force coach Joe Muehlbauer. “We’ve been waiting to start the league season for a long time now, so there’s no complaining now. It’s finally time to go get after it.”
Air Force comes in with an interesting halfback combination that could be the key to their success. Reed Fleming is tall for a scrumhalf and got plenty of work during the CRC Qualifier 7s tournament in Las Vegas last month. He pairs with Patrick Murphy, a converted No. 8, of all things, who is tall, as well, and imposing with the ball in hand. They bring some size to a team that has a robust pack, led by lanky lock forward Jack Bristol.
Out in the backs, Mack Griffin offers some attacking flair.
The Wildcats will be without four key players as they begin league play on Saturday. Senior lock David Rader has been lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. Senior flanker Nicholas Svob is lost for the weekend with a strained tendon and sophomore fullback Shane Carter and freshman center Cameron Hudson are both out indefinitely with mono.
But the Wildcat attack looked just fine against New Mexico State last week, with sophomore center Scott Bouchard scoring early and flyhalf Trevor Brady, and sophomore flanker Ryan Nance all scoring – Nance twice.
“It was a good win but we still made too many errors,” said Arizona head coach Dave Sitton. “I’m glad we have a week to prepare for probably one of the toughest conference schedules in the nation.”
55th Rescue Squadron Day
The University of Arizona rugby program salutes the men and women of the 55th Rescue Squadron, an adopted friend of the University Rugby program. The 55th Rescue Squadron is a member of the 563rd Rescue Group. The 563rd directs flying operations for the United States Air Force’s only active duty rescue wing, dedicated to combat search and rescue. The group is responsible for readiness training, maintenance of one H130 squadron and two HH60 squadrons.
Two rescue squadrons, two maintenance squadrons and an operations support squadron operate from two geographically separate operating locations.
Members of the 563rd have been busy, constantly deployed in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. They have also been known to serve the needs of civilian emergencies in Southern Arizona.
The 55th Rescue Squadron operates the HH60 Pave Hawk and provides rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. They tactically employ the HH60 helicopter and its crew in hostile environments to recover downed air crew and isolated personnel during day, night or marginal weather conditions. The squadron also conducts military operations other than war including civil search and rescue, disaster relief, international aid, emergency medical evacuation and counter drug activities.
Since 2010, Arizona coach Dave Sitton has been the Unit’s honorary commander. In 2011, the University of Arizona rugby team members were immersed in an 18-hour overnight training program on Davis Monthan Air Force base. Lasting friendships were built between the Night Hawks and Wildcats. As a result, the Wildcats immersed again last weekend. (February 24 & 25)
In turn, the Night Hawks staged their Silver Flight versus Maroon Flight Rugby Touch Match prior to Arizona’s CPD Opener against Wyoming last year. For good measure, the game ball and flag to be flown over Murphey Stadium were delivered via an HH60 Pave Hawk which landed on the Rincon Vista pitch.
Arizona wears special camouflage jerseys featuring the 55th Rescue Squadron insignia on the right sleeve. The Wildcats have worn this on regional television coverage of the ‘Cats on Fox Sports Net and sport a 55th Rescue Squadron warm-up shirt for their National Seven-A-Side appearances telecast on NBC Sports.
Members of the 55th Rescue Squad are known to sport the camo jerseys on base. On Saturday, the 55th and family members will tailgate and attend the Arizona – Air Force match. Again, the game ball will be delivered by an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.