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The South Independent quietly played a portion of its 15s season this fall. With so many conferences making a choice between playing all its 15s in the spring or fall, the SIRC went back to a split schedule.
Leading the north division going into the winter break is Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders won the north last season and finished second to Central Florida before advancing to the DI-AA Round of 16, where they lost to Missouri, 46-10.
MTSU brought back an experienced team this season, played Southeastern semifinalist Tennessee tough and beat Vanderbilt in preseason action, and sits at 4-0 in SIRC play. Head coach Jody Hensley credits a tough preseason, and the lopsided loss to Missouri in the spring, for the team’s growth.
“The very first weekend of the season we played Vanderbilt on a Friday afternoon, played Western Kentucky on Saturday and played Tennessee on Sunday. That next weekend we went to Arkansas and played Arkansas State, the University of Arkansas and Louisiana Tech, so we took on six games of rugby in two weekends, but we did that in preparation thinking we’d be stronger as the year went on, and I think it helped us. The fitness came out of it. We jelled together pretty good. We were pretty strong. I definitely felt we were better off for it,” said Hensley.
“I didn’t go [to the Sweet 16 in the spring] with the grand delusion that we were about to win a National Championship, but there wasn’t a single guy on that team that had been to that level of competition. It cost us a lot of money to do that, but at the end of the day we needed to do it so they could see it and know where we needed to be. I think we’re better for having done that, yes.”
MTSU won every league game by 20 or more points this fall, but suffered a significant amount of injuries in the process. The Blue Raiders have four more league matches in the spring, from Feb. 14 through March 28. With the injuries and a more competitive north division, those games are far from foregone conclusions.
“I would definitely say the top three in there – Kennesaw, us and Georgia Southern are all pretty competitive,” said Hensley. “We ended up with a score that might look a little lopsided against Georgia Southern, but they were in that game for a long time.”
The SIRC 15s championship is scheduled for April 4, and the 7s championship is slated for Feb. 7.