Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pre-Season 2014

Division I Men's

The 2013 Division I season saw the two Ohio teams in the division share very different fates. Columbus ended the season in fourth place with 35 points, while the Cincinnati Wolfhounds wound up in last with a meager eight points.

For the Columbus club, they were on the winning side for the majority of their matches - most notably, waxing the Milwaukee Barbarians 51-18 to kick off the season. Unfortunately, after that the scorelines narrowed and then, eventually, disappeared. Aside from an early loss to Metropolis, the first half of the season seemed to be all Columbus; but somewhere there was a big drop off and the rest of the division surpassed Columbus. The Kansas City Blues put the biggest hurting on Columbus when they put up 69 points to a mere three points. Milwaukee even got a measure of retribution when they blanked Columbus at the end of the season. Seeing as they were only six points out of third place and 14 away from second place, Columbus just needs to start off strong like they did last year and sustain their momentum and pressure in order to be a greater force within the division.

The Wolfhounds, however, had a much different season in 2013. Where Columbus started strong and tapered off at the end, the Wolfhounds never really got going. They began their season with a loss to the Chicago Lions and never quite recovered. On one hand, there were matches where they just got abused - like when Metropolis not only whitewashed them but put over 60 points up on the board. Then, there were their narrow losses - 25-20 to the Lions, 19-15 to the Griffins, 26-24 to Kansas City and 20-10 to the Barbarians. These are usually the most heartbreaking losses for a team to suffer but they also offer the most promise. When a team walks all over another then it's more a matter of the lesser team being outclassed, but when the margin is close it causes a team to closely examine their skills, strategy and fitness - whatever they have to look at - to see exactly where they went wrong and what they can improve upon in order to get those crucial scoring opportunities to convert into points; and that's where a turn around can really begin. Last season the Wolfhounds landed at the bottom of the table, but a small turn-around, especially against the teams they narrowly lost to last year, could see the Cincinnati squad make some steps towards the top and really surprise some of the other teams in the division.

Division II Men's

In Division II there are more Ohio teams represented, between the Eastern Suburbs Rugby Football Club, Rovers and Dayton. One rose above the other two, thanks in large part big wins early on and sustained success throughout the remainder of the Fall.

The Eastern Suburbs Rugby Football Club stood over the other teams in the Division II East standings at the end of last year. Though they were only six points clear of the next team in the standings, the score lines in the individual matches showed just how far ahead of their competition they actually were. The closest winning match they had was their nine-point win over Pittsburgh, and their widest margin was their 78-3 shellacking of Dayton. The ESRFC had a very strong 2013, with only a few losses – one to Pittsburgh and a defeat at the hands of the Detroit Tradesmen, who topped their pool in the East as well. These blemishes were far from blow-outs, though. When they lost to Pittsburgh they were far from out of contention – in rugby a 17-point swing can happen in a matter of moments; and when they lost to the Tradesmen the ESRFC was well within striking distance, with six points being the difference between the two teams. If the ESRFC tinkers with how they approach Pittsburgh and tighten up against the Tradesmen, there’s no reason why they can’t run the table in 2014.

The Rovers, the other Cleveland representative team in the pool, had slightly different fortunes in 2013. The Rovers were a little under .500 last year, taking home four wins out of the ten-game season. The up side is that the Rovers took home eight overall bonus points from the rest of the season; and though they wouldn’t have fallen lower in the standings without them, those points went a long way to solidifying their third place finish. What the Rovers need to do differently is stop the proverbial bleeding when it comes to taking a loss to another team. While a win is definitely better than a loss, losing bonus points are better than no points at all. Keeping matches close in 2014 could net the Rovers some points to keep them close and in contention to whatever teams are ahead of them. Consistency could be key for the Cleveland team as well. At the beginning of 2013 the Rovers lost often, and they lost big. Then, as they hit stride, the Rovers started taking home some wins, even though they lost the last two out of three of the final matches. If the Rovers can start out with a head of steam they could possibly jump up the ranks in 2014.

Dayton had the worst 2013 of all the Division II Ohio men’s teams. The only saving graces to their season were a tie with the Detroit RFC and a win over Michiana. The win over Michiana didn’t help them in the standings too much because, well, everyone had a win over Michiana due to their internal strife and folding. Dayton’s closest match was their one-point loss to the Rovers, with their next closest being a 21-14 loss to Pittsburgh. In 2013 Dayton was just out classed at every turn. In the ten games of the season Dayton gave up over 300 points. That’s more points than the ESRFC and Rovers gave up the entire year. Where the Rovers need to stop the bleeding in 2014, Dayton needs to make some major changes to be able to just get in the game.

Division III

Division III is flush with Ohio men’s teams. Many are from the southern region of the state while a few compete with teams around the northern borders. AkronCanton and the Toledo Celtics represented the Buckeye State in the north. The Cincinnati Wolfhounds’ DIII side, along with the Kelts, Queen City and Columbus Rhinos, represented in the southern division. As varied as the numbers of teams are in this division, so are the results that they had in 2013.

Division III – Part One: the East and the North

The Toledo Celtics fared the best of the Ohio teams in the north. They finished nine points shy of second place and finished the Fall with only two losses out of 12 games played. For the majority of the season, Toledo won and won big. They put up an average of 51.6 points in the Fall, with their closest match being their 33-24 win over Grand Rapids at the end of the season. The only team that proved a match for the Celtics was the Tri-City Barbarians, who put up 29 and 41 points, respectively, on the Toledo side during their two encounters; and the Celtics could scarcely manage to get scores in the double-digits. Judging by the numbers, the Celtics are clearly head and shoulders above the majority of the competition in their region. In order to remedy their pair of blemishes in the 2014 season, they’ll have to raise their game that much more in order to take down the Barbarians.

Akron and the Canton Maddogs, who are technically in the east division, had slightly less luck in their 2013 Fall season, taking fourth and sixth place, respectively. Both played nine games. Of those games, Akron took three wins on the season and Canton only got a single win. Akron started off the season strong, notching up two wins out of the gate against Canton and Erie. After that the wheels fell off their season. After the fourth game, Akron wouldn’t put any points on the board until the final game of their season. These points would amount to little more than a Pyrrhic victory at best since they lost that match 55-12. While Canton scored more often than Akron in 2013, the outcome was even less favorable than their neighbors to the north. The Maddogs failed to put up a win until the waning weeks of their season, when they narrowly beat Pittsburgh’s DIII side 17-12. In 2014, Akron needs to figure out a plan for long-term success. Where they started off strong in the first few weeks of the season, the bottom fell out just as quickly. Whether it’s a matter of talent or strategy, if Akron can harness what they had in the first two weeks of 2013 and sustain it they can make some stronger strides in 2014. The Maddogs may just need to go back to square one and try an entirely different strategy. Being the low team on the proverbial totem pole is one thing, but having five teams put up over forty points – with one team almost reaching the century mark – is a completely different story. There is a glimmer of hope for the Maddogs, though. If their 15s team plays as well as their sevens team did at their home tournament, they could surprise a lot of teams.

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