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While many teams have moved up a division because of USA Rugby’s collegiate restructuring plan, UW-Stout has moved from DI to DII. The Blue Devils compete in the NCAA’s DIII in traditional college sports.
“Obviously, the conference alignment had something to do with it, but that’s just one of the reasons we went down,” said Stout's Brad Dufek.
“We wanted to compete for a National Championship. Those guys that have been playing at DI for the last three-four years, we’ve competed, but the ultimate goal is to go far in the playoffs and compete for a National Championship.”
The plan has worked so far, as the Blue Devils are 5-0 in the WIIL Conference and ranked No. 5 in the country.
“Guys are having a lot of fun. It’s fun knowing that we still have a chance to make a run. Last year, if you didn’t go undefeated in your conference, you pretty much knew you weren’t going to go to Nationals,” said Dufek. “So with the new setup that the WIIL has put together, we feel pretty confident that we can make it there in the spring.”
Though the Blue Devils are undefeated, they’re in second place in the WIIL’s North Division. Top-ranked UW-Whitewater is in first, with an extra bonus point. Stout and Whitewater meet Saturday in Menomonie, Wisc. to decide who’ll win the inaugural North title.
And while the winner gets bragging rights, the loser is not eliminated from playoff contention, as the top four teams in the North Division cross over against the top four from the South in the conference quarterfinals Nov. 10 in Chicago. The semifinals and finals are April 6-7 in Cottage Grove, Wisc. So if the playoffs play out the way the rankings say they should, Stout and Whitewater will meet again in the spring to decide the conference champion.
Either way, Saturday is a big day for both teams. Whitewater has held the No. 1 ranking for the better part of three seasons, and Stout is eager to prove it’s the best DII team in Wisconsin.
“Basically, it’s our game,” said Dufek. “If we do not let the rankings, the hype, pull us off what we’ve been doing all season and continue to ruck hard and play clean ball, I think we’re all pretty confident we can compete with them, being No. 1 in the country.”