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Life's Blane McIlroy vying for title of try leader. Marvin Dangerfield photo

Pool D of the Penn Mutual CRC features perennial power Life University, local favorite Drexel, Penn State and Virginia Tech.

The Life Running Eagles have taken the competition by storm since qualifying for the tournament with a Las Vegas Invitational win five years ago. The Running Eagles have finished no worse than fourth, and came up just short of knocking off Cal for the title in 2013.

Colton Cariaga, a familiar face from the 2013 final, coaches the small chiropractic school from Georgia. Cariaga captained the squad during that campaign and has returned this year to coach the Running Eagles.

Despite having a side predominantly filled with lower classmen last season, Life finished in 4th place. The Running Eagles will receive a boost this year, as captain Harley Davidson will be available after missing last year’s tournament due to injury. Along with the addition of Cody Melphy, Life will have some additional weapons in its arsenal. Combined with an additional year of experience, Life could finally get over the hump.

“I think it was a good experience for the boys,” Cariaga said of the fourth place finish last year. “Any time we go through something like that we work the best we can to bounce back and learn and improve from it.”

Life will have to go through several teams that have proven to be tough games at the CRC. Life got a taste of Virginia Tech earlier this year in a tune up tournament and won. The Hokies know that Life will be the team to beat and have been preparing to try and knock off the favorites.

“Obviously, Life is the top dog in our pool….We played them in an exhibition a few weeks ago and they looked really strong,” said Virginia Tech coach Paul Caron.

Virginia Tech has not reached the cup rounds in any of the three CRC tournaments it has participated in, thanks in large part to one of its group competitors, Penn State. While the Hokies have not played the Nittany Lions at the CRC, Penn State has edged out Virginia Tech at the past couple of CRC’s because of point differential.

“It will be really exciting to play that team and actually try and compete with them on the same field to push us to the next level,” Caron said of playing Penn State.

Penn State has been a mainstay at the CRC since 2010, finishing a program best 6th place in 2013. After finishing 8th in 2014 and a disappointing 15th last year, the Nittany Lions are looking to get back to the cup rounds.

Drexel returns to the CRC after missing out last year. In its only foray at the CRC, Drexel finished 16th overall. The Dragons qualified by winning the Philadelphia Championship Cup Division in 2015.