Highlander Men Spring Season Preview

Author: Bill Marnell -

The Highlander Men are working hard this winter to prepare for a very exciting spring 2017 season. The club has gone a perfect 8 – 0 during fall league play and now sits atop the Midwest Eastern – East division and second overall in the Midwest Eastern Conference. The club will play 4 remaining league matches to finish out a grueling 12 game league schedule, but by earning 40 league points out of a possible 40, the club is poised to earn their second playoff bid in 3 years after narrowly missing last season.

After a successful Rookie Workout Camp earlier in January, the Highlanders will open pre-season training on Friday, February 3, 2017.  The club will be working hard to bring new players up to speed while honing the skills of their veteran players before they open the schedule on Saturday, March 25th against the Greensburg Maulers.

Midwest Territory: Eastern Conference – East Division Standings

TEAMGPWLTPFPAPDBTBLFFPTS
Pittsburgh Highlanders880030314316080040
Cleveland Crusaders (D3)862028316212161031
Cleveland Rovers8350214221-753020
South Pittsburgh Hooligans73402662541261019
Greensburg Maulers8251166264-9832-114
Akron Rugby Club7241208237-2930013
Pittsburgh Rugby Club (D3)8260170329-15950-112

 

LEAGUE PREVIEW

Greensburg will come to town with a 2 – 5 – 1 record, but with a close loss to the Highlanders on the books. The match in Greensburg played on September 24, 2016 saw the Highlanders beating a hard tackling Mauler team by only 7 points, 26 – 19. The Highlanders will look to use the space available on their wide pitch to exploit the Mauler defense, something they were unable to do on Greensburg’s extremely narrow field. The Highlanders have never lost a game to Greensburg since their resurgence in 2014, and look to continue that trend this spring.

Following a bye weekend on April 1st, the Highlanders will again play host to another division rival on April 8th. This time, they will host Akron Rugby Club, who currently sit in sixth place in the division. The Highlanders were able to defeat Akron on their home pitch on October 8, 2016 by a score of 43 – 21 and run their streak up to 7 wins in a row against Akron. This time, the Highlanders will look to continue to score at will against the Ohio squad while shutting down their hard running center Tyler Crowl. The shifty Akron 12 was able to score two fluky tries on broken plays in the fall match up. With a 5 point win, the Highlanders would only need to earn 1 additional league point in their final two matches to officially clinch the division and spot in the 2017 Midwest Playoffs.

On April 15th, the Highlanders will make their only road trip during the spring 2017 league schedule. They will travel to northeast Ohio to face former division champions, the Cleveland Rovers. In the 2015 – 2016 season, the Highlanders split the home at home series with the Rovers, getting thumped in Cleveland by a score of 41 – 10 before exacting some revenge at home, beating the Rovers 29 – 22. Cleveland was able to get the last laugh that year, however,  by earning the bonus point in the loss to the Highlanders. It allowed them to win the division and enter the playoffs by one league point, ending the Highlanders season early without a playoff run. This season, the Highlanders were able to beat the Rovers in Pittsburgh on October 15 by a score of 46 – 12. The Highlanders will look to sweep the season series and beat the Rovers in 3 consecutive matches. As mentioned above, a win, tie, or bonus point (even in a loss) secured will officially clinch the division for the Highlanders a guarantee a playoff berth.

The next (and final) weekend of the league schedule will see the Highlanders hosting second place Cleveland Crusaders (D3). The Crusaders are a very talented squad and currently boast a record of 6 – 2, good for second place in the division. If the Highlanders are unable to secure 11 league points in the first 3 matches of the spring, this game could very well determine who wins the division and enters the Midwest Playoffs as the representative from the East. On October 22, 2016, the Highlanders took a skeleton side up to Cleveland and beat the Crusaders by a score of 36 – 22. The club was missing several starters including both starting flankers, Eric David and Michael Boyd, as well as talented scrumhalf/ fullback Zach Powell. With a win in the spring, the club could secure their first undefeated league season in club history and have a chance of hosting the first round of the Midwest Playoffs, however they would need some help from other teams in the conference to do so.

PLAYOFF PREVIEW

There will be no rest for the Highlanders as the first round of the Midwest Playoffs will be held on the following weekend, April 29th and 30th. The team that holds the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference will host the other three division winners. The divisions that make up the Midwest’s Eastern Conference include Michigan, Indiana, the South (southern Ohio and northern Kentucky) and the East (eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania). Since each division plays a different amount of games during league play, the standings are determined by points earned per game. Each team can earn a maximum of 5 league points per game therefore the clubs closest to that mark are ranked higher. If two clubs have an identical points per game statistic, the tie breaker is point differential, the difference between points for (scored) and points against (allowed). Currently, both Fort Wayne Rugby and the Highlanders are maintaining 5 league points per game, however Fort Wayne is currently considered the number 1 seed due to a larger point differential they are maintaining. The Highlanders will either need to make up 146 points difference or hope for a Fort Wayne Rugby stumble if they hope to become the high seed in the Eastern Conference and host the first round. Once sorted out, the number 1 seed will play the number 4 seed while the number 2 seed will play the number 3 seed on Saturday. The next day, the two winners will play for the right to go to the Midwest Championship while the two losing clubs will play a consolation game.

Midwest Territory: Eastern Conference Standings

TEAMGPWLTPFPAPDBTBLFFPTSPTS/GDIV.
Fort Wayne Rugby660033024306600305.00Indiana
Pittsburgh Highlanders8800303143160800405.00East
Columbus Castaways770026281181500334.71South
Toledo Celtics880034776271500374.63Michigan

 

If the Highlanders are able to make it through the Midwest Regional Playoffs, they will need to get right back on the road the following weekend, May 6th. This time they will travel several hours to Chicago, IL to play the winner of the Midwest Western Conference. They too have 4 divisions sending division champions to the regional playoffs the week prior, but the early favorite seems to be last year’s Midwest Champion and National Final 4 side: Bremer County Bucks from Iowa. No matter who the Highlanders would face in this round, the game will surely be tough.

With a win in the Midwest Championship, the Highlanders would head into a much needed bye week and then a home round! The National Eastern Conference Regionals are being hosted by the Pittsburgh Harlequins at Founder’s Field which would provide a huge home field advantage to the club if they are able to make it that far. Here, the club as the winner of the Midwest TU, would face the champions of the other GU’s that make of the Eastern League of USA Rugby. These include the North Atlantic, the Mid – Atlantic and the South. Similar to the opening round of the Midwest Playoffs, this weekend would require the club to win games on both Saturday and Sunday to advance to the USA Rugby National Championship held at Infinity Park in Glendale, CO on Saturday, June 3, 2017. The club that emerges from the Eastern Regionals will take on the winner of the Western Regionals for the Division 3 Club National Championship.

The Highlanders are currently recruiting new and experienced players for the spring 2017 season and subsequent playoff run. Indoor practices will be held at the Greentree Sportsplex located at 600 Iron City Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15205. The training sessions will be every Friday evening in February and March from 9:00pm – 11:00pm. All players are asked to attend regularly wearing rugby gear. Once the weather breaks in April, the club will practice at their pitch at the normal training times of every Tuesday and Thursday from 7:00pm – 9:00pm.

In order to be eligible to play, club members must be at least 18 years of age and be CIPP registered with the Pittsburgh Highlanders. Players who didn’t play for a club this past fall are required to CIPP at anytime prior to playing. Players wishing to transfer their registration must do so at www.usarugby.com/transfer by March 15, 2017. For more information, please contact us.