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PHILADELPHIA – Junior Jack Arnold remembers the flood of text messages from his University of Arizona teammates early on the morning of August 12, 2013: Dave Sitton, who headed the club for 35 years, had died suddenly.
[Above: Junior Jack Arnold kicks off for Arizona. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona Rugby]
“I was one week away from coming back to practice in the fall,” Arnold said. “I had just had shoulder surgery. I was waiting for (Sitton) to comment on how much weight I had gained, or something funny like that. I didn’t even get to see him.”
Sitton’s death sent Arizona scrambling to cobble together a plan to replace him.
“Everyone was pretty much shocked when it happened,” Arizona senior Trevor Laue said. “The first fall was pretty much us on our own with the help of some coaches that we’ve had in the past. We were kind of struggling to find a path.”
Arnold pitched in by coaching the sevens side while Tyson Swetnam, previously the forwards coach, led the fifteens squad.
In January, it was announced that Sean Duffy had been hired to lead the program after previous stops at St. Joseph’s University and the Keystone Rugby Conference.
“They are definitely big shoes to fill,” Duffy said. “I knew Dave near the end of his life and he really was a mentor to me when it came to not only coaching but the administration and the big issues in college rugby. Our 30-minute conversations that we would set up would always be three-hour conversations.”
Duffy – who previously worked as a youth development officer with USA Rugby – heads a program that is now considered an ‘elevated club’ at Arizona, with increased travel funding and a stadium named after Sitton.
Head High-School All-American coach Salty Thompson has joined Duffy’s staff along with Andy Katoa, who has worked as a national team manager. The pair has assisted with the Wildcats preparation for the CRC with limited time since Arizona’s last fifteens match was a 64-13 loss to Central Florida in the DI-AA national championship on May 11.
“We had 10 days of practice pretty much,” Arnold said. “Typically, in the previous years, we had the whole month of May. We would pretty much do two-a-days the whole month of May and get here to the tournament. This year, since we were in the final four and lost, we started a little bit late.”
The Wildcats are matched with Life, Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania in Pool E.
“I heard one of our guys say they felt like they were in a USA camp while prepping for the CRC,” Duffy said. “(Thompson and Katoa) have brought great experience. They understand the big picture. They worked the guys hard, but they understand the player welfare issues with our pool recovery sessions, stretching and eating right.”