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Air Force is the latest team to accept an invitation to the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. The Zoomies finished fourth at the CRC Qualifier in Las Vegas earlier this month, falling to eventual champ Arkansas State in the semifinals and fellow CRC team St. Joe’s in the consolation game. They beat two-time CRC champion Dartmouth in pool play and 2014 runner-up Kutztown in the quarterfinals.
Air Force fills a void left by the exit of Army. The Black Knights originally committed to the CRC, and were announced as participants, but they will not be competing in 2015. Army is in its first year as a varsity program, and with that came new restrictions and guidelines that won’t allow the Black Knights to participate this year, though they may well going forward.
Penn Mutual, the tournament’s title sponsor, is a very large supporter of the armed forces, and adding another military academy made sense from that perspective. It also made sense from a branding and competitive standpoint.
Winners of more 15s National Championships than any team not named Cal or BYU, Air Force is one of the blue bloods of college rugby, and the Zoomies have a longer history of playing 7s than most collegiate teams, as they often enter summer tournaments while other programs are dormant. Though they would have like to have made their CRC debut sooner, the Zoomies are thrilled to be involved in 2015.
“I know in the past we have come close to an invitation so this has been a long time coming for us,” said Air Force coach Joe Muehlbauer. “We believe that we belong in the group of schools at the CRC and look at it as a privilege to compete against them. It has also given our squad an extra boost this spring. We already had a full plate but this has given us extra focus for the 15s guys as well as the 7s. One thing for sure is that we will not be out worked or out trained.”
With the recent additions of Arkansas State and Air Force, the field is nearly set. There is one more invitation to be extended, and three more qualifiers left this spring – the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern.