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Believe it or not, the college rugby season is already upon us, and Saturday, there’s an intriguing clash between Notre Dame College and Wheeling Jesuit. The Cardinals travel to NDC in suburban Cleveland, Ohio for the third all-time meeting with the Falcons.
NDC and WJU both came online as varsity programs in 2012. In their first seasons they met twice, with the Cardinals winning 34-13 and 33-10. The emergence of these two funded programs gives the Rust Belt three varsity squads. Davenport and Wheeling Jesuit both compete in DI-A, Davenport in the Mid-South, and Wheeling Jesuit in the Rugby East, while NDC remains DII.
“This is only our third season as a program, and we felt like we were one year away from being ready for DI full-time,” said NDC coach Brian McCue. “So we wanted to give ourselves the test of what DI was like with the hopes of moving up to DI next year.”
The Falcons went undefeated in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference last season, hanging an average of nearly 52 points on their opponents in the process. They were bounced from the national playoffs in the round of 16 by eventual semifinalist UW-Whitewater.
Along with Wheeling Jesuit, NDC has two other non-conference games scheduled with DI competition, against defending Keystone champion West Virginia and Buffalo of the Rugby East.
“We’re trying to, obviously, face tough competition in the hope of being ready for playoffs and postseason play, where you face some really stiff competition,” said McCue. “We’re just trying to get a sniff of the best competition out there.”
Wheeling Jesuit also has a busy non-conference slate, with Michigan, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Davenport on the schedule. The Cardinals are hoping to improve on a winless 2013 conference campaign in an expanded Rugby East, which includes Iona, St. Bonaventure, Army, Penn State, Buffalo and Kutztown.