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The NSCRO Men's Champions Cup powered by Penn Mutual is slated for this weekend and all four teams that are headed for the Friday Sunday season finale all took different paths to get there.
Salve Regina booked its ticket to the final four in the fall after winning the Colonial Coast convincingly. With the structure of the playoffs, they had the disadvantage and in some respects advantage of having to wait six months to play.
The Rhode Island school was missing a few starters towards the end of the season that now have had ample time for o recover for this week.
"The fall really showed out depth as a team. Some guys had to step up and play important minutes in critical spots giving them valuable experience for our playoff push this spring," said captain Joe Goff.
Salve Regina has been testing itself against top tier competition this spring, playing in the Beast of the East tournament and scheduling some non-conference games.
Salve Regina is 12-0 in competitive 15s play this season.
For the first time ever Loyola University of Maryland is making an appearance in the final four. Loyola started its playoff run in the fall and finished it off by beating Tennessee Tech convincingly.
The Maryland school has placed a strong emphasis on conditioning this season. They also had the fortune of their field being recently given a dome, affording them extra time to practice and get in game form.
"We brought on a strength and conditioning coach to help take us to the next level. The program is really working and we are able to outwork teams at the end of games,” said Loyola coach Matt Cipriano.
Loyola is 11-1 in competitive matches, with their only loss coming to conference rival Catholic. Loyola edged Catholic in the post season to exact some revenge.
Iowa Central has put up over 100 points in nearly every game this season, including a 127-3 win over Fransician to head to the final four. Iowa Central is not overly big, but executes extremely well with time and space while punishing teams for turnovers.
Coach Brent Nelson isn't concerned with the team's lack of competitive games because they have scheduled a number of non-conference games against DIA teams like Arkansas State and Davenport.
"We play against who we are scheduled and add tough non-conference competition to continue to get better. Every game we play regardless of score we try to get better and test out new combinations and tactics," Nelson added.
Iowa Central lost in the Challenge Cup last year and had made a strong jump to the Champions Cup. For a program only in its third year of existence it is growing leaps and bounds.
"Losing in the Challenge Cup Finals left us wanting more this season. We have been working hard to be the champs this season," Nelson added.
Iowa Central is 13-2 losing only to Lindenwood and Arkansas State.
The Claremont Colleges are back to defend their national title form last season. Claremont won on back-to-back days beating the University of Denver and Angelo State to return this season.
The California school is keenly aware that they have a target on their backs but is excited for the challenge.
"I would be lying if I said the guys do not realize that we are defending a national title. We are taking it one day at a time and are prepared to face quality competition," said Director of Rugby Jeremy Ognall.
On Friday Loyola Maryland will take on Iowa Central while Claremont Colleges will battle Salve Regina.
The games will be streamed here www.youtube.com/NSCRORugby/live