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AIC with the ball. Lorrie Macy Photo.

One of the crown jewels of the Las Vegas Invitational is the Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifier. Arkansas State won last year’s competition and parlayed the win into a solid showing at the CRC and invitation to return to the big dance this year.

This year’s field consists of 21 schools broken into six pools. The tournament has some familiar faces as well as some newcomers, and should produce some high quality rugby.

AIC jumped on the scene the last couple of seasons and has become a force in 7s. The Yellow Jackets have experience and depth and by all accounts are the favorite to win the tournament. Jihad Khabir and Christian Adams highlight a dynamic offense. The combination netted a plethora of tries in fall fifteens and should continue to excel in the faster version of the game.

“This is the most time we have ever had to train for the LVI,” AIC coach Josh Macy told Rugby Today….”We are also deeper than we have been in the past, which I think will help us come Saturday, should we make it.”

AIC lost to Arkansas State in last year’s final and will look to make it to the big dance this year. This year, however, AIC is coming into the tournament with a target on its back. Combined with playing in Sin City, there are plenty of distractions to deal with.

“The guys really understand how to deal with those distractions and I think that will pay dividends for the young guys,” added Macy. Utah returns to the LVI after falling to AIC in the final game of pool play on the last play of the game a year ago. Utah is hoping to make it back to the CRC after being removed due to suspension several years ago. The Utes won the inaugural CRC and will have to go through Northeastern and Pittsburgh to get to the cup rounds.

A pair of former DII rivals, Notre Dame College and James Madison have battled over the last couple years, including at USA Rugby’s DII National Championships, and are looking to parlay success into the DI field. NDC beat the Dukes in pool play, but James Madison went on to win the USA Rugby National Championship last year. Both teams will be formidable as they move into DI and will fight for a spot in the top eight.

Air Force showed very well at the LVI last year and is traditionally well conditioned and fast. Delaware returns from suspension and is looking to earn its way back to the CRC. The Blue Hens will be looking to challenge the Zoomies as the teams are in the same group.

Lindenwood-Belleville has a strong path to the cup rounds, thanks in large part to the late exit from New England College. NEC pulled out late due to administrative issues with the school. The former NSCRO School was a mainstay in the NSCRO division at the CRC and given the opportunity, had the talent and skill to make some noise in Las Vegas.

The action starts Thursday with pool play. The six pool winners along with the top two-second place teams will advance to the Cup Rounds to take place on Friday. The final will take place inside Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday afternoon.