You are here
Lindenwood makes its Mid-South and DI-A debut Saturday against Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark.
Both the Lions and Red Wolves have had a hard time getting warm-up matches, as winter weather throughout the region has made getting outside difficult.
The Lions managed one preseason game against a select side made up of men's club players from the Missouri RFU, which they won. Arkansas State also has one game under its belt - a 103-0 defeat of Texas A&M.
"Definitely the result we wanted coming off the blocks," said Arkansas State Head Coach Mani Delabaitiki. "That was a good start, but as I told the guys, we take each week one week at a time. This week, regardless of what happened last week, we've got to restart again."
Saturday also marks the first league game for the coaches of both programs. Lindenwood's Ron Laszewski stepped down earlier this month, and JD Stephenson, who's been at Lindenwood as an assistant since the school started a program, has taken over the head coaching duties.
Alex Houser left the Arkansas State program last year, former head coach Matt Huckaby stepped in as interim, and now Delabaitiki is the shot-caller.
"Coach Matt and coach Curt Huckaby, those guys have done a good job prepping the guys and the program, so I've sort of got it made in that respect," said Delabaitiki. "I've just got to be sure it stays the same. Its exciting to see Lindenwood do the same."
Lindenwood will be making its jump to DI-A without its best player, as fullback Morgan Findlay suffered a season-ending facial injury last week. Freshman Lungi Tshuma will try to fill his shoes. Tshuma, a member of the Sri Lankan 7s National Team, is new to Lindenwood this semester. Flyhalf Ben O'Donnell and Flanker Shenal Dias are other first-semester Lions making their starting debuts in Jonesboro.
Despite graduating multiple All Americans, Arkansas State returns a pretty experienced squad led by No. 8 Shaun Potgieter, flanker Steyn Benade, scrumhalf Dylan Carrion and flyhalf Zinzan Elan-Putick. One of the new names in Saturday's starting lineup is Dustin Bates, brother of wing Dale Bates. Dylan is a sophomore getting his second-ever start against Lindenwood.
"When we had our tryouts, he was one of the guys who stood out and put his hand out for selections," said Delabaitiki. "So we thought we'd give him a shot and we did last week, and he played his way enough to earn his spot again this week."
Arkansas State sent the equivalent of a JV side up to St. Charles, Mo. for a friendly with the Lions last April, and the Red Wolves left with a 26-15 victory. Connor Cook was outstanding at openside flanker for ASU in that game, and Michael Baska was impressive, too. Both are in the starting lineup for ASU this weekend, at lock and inside center, respectively.
"We put our best team forward and they got the better of us at Lindenwood," said Stephenson of last year's loss. "This Saturday is going to be great weather and great running rugby, I think. Mani and I want to move the rugby ball around and play some entertaining rugby, so it should be very interesting."
Davenport last year, like Lindenwood this year, was a very successful varsity program transitioning to the toughest conference in college rugby. The Panthers struggled to an 0-4 finish. Stephenson says his team isn't looking to have the same baptism into the Mid-South, but is prepared to cope with whatever does happen.
"They don't like losing, so it's hard for them to actually relinquish and roll over and lose in a game, but at the same time, I think you learn a lot in defeat, some times better than you do actually winning," said Stephenson of his players. "Obviously UCF was a massive wakeup call that we don't even need to play a varsity team to kind of lose. To be totally honest with you, were kind of lucky that we've got a bunch of guys who are very well rounded and very level-headed."