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Aviators Look to Fly at DIII Playoffs

Thursday May 14, 2009 in Grassroots Rugby Division III Clubs

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May 14, 2009 – Division III rugby can be full of surprises – sure it’s the recreational side of the equation, but DIII champions have been known to go on to greater things: Pearl City won a DII title a year after winning DIII, and Reno, last year’s champions, made the Pacific Coast playoffs after a jump all the way up to DI.

Who will be the big winner this year?

West Pool 1
Mission v. Fort Worth
Eagle Rock v. Northern State

East Pool 2
Danbury v. Pensacola
Cleveland Eastern Suburbs v. Blackburg

West Pool 2
Beaumont v. Budd Bay
Wichita v. Phoenix

East Pool 1
Middlesex v. Harrisburg
Hilton Head v. Lexington

How about Pensacola?

Coached by former player and Navy pilot Paul Mitchell, who learned the game at Norwich University, Pensacola is a Navy-heavy team.

Mitchell started coaching after breaking his ankle, and recruited other Navy officers to help him marshal the talented team.

Most of the players are flight students who are around for no more than two seasons.

“We’re pretty stoked and confident,” said Mitchell. “We’re a very good team, and we expect to win both our games.”

Mitchell’s ascension into the head coaching role has been huge for the club.

“Previously we didn’t have a coach, so that’s a big deal,” Mitchell said. “We’ve also had really good commitment this year. We’re in a naval town and have a lot of players coming and going, so consistency is difficult.”

The core experienced group is the forwards, while there’s been a big difference in the backs this year as about ten new flight students have bolstered their ranks.

But Mitchell knows he has to make hay while the sun shines, because these players won’t be around long.

“It sucks that you basically have start from the beginning every year,” he said. “We focus on the basics and move on. We’re holding people accountable and being very productive at practice. But yeah, with 40 percent of the squad made up of flight students, it’s hard to maintain that level.”

Led by captain Josh Murphy and with flanker Jerod Jazenski and hooker Doug Jolly in the forwards and flyhalf Craig Noewicz playing well in the backs, Pensacola succeeds when they dominate at the breakdown.

“Everyone can be a back or a forward,” Mitchell said. “Everyone can handle the ball well. Josh Murphy is a tremendous leader. I’m on the sidelines and tell him what’s going on, and he controls it on the field. Craig Nosewicz, does a good job of running the show on the field; he calls the shots.”

Despite the difficulties the Pensacola club faces due to lack of money and lack of player continuity, they are supremely confident. They are not there just to make up the numbers, and while they are DIII, they take their rugby seriously.

“We are for real,” said Mitchell. “We watched the DII championships and feel we can compete at that level. This year is not a fluke. Every game we’ve won this year, we’ve won handily. We’ve been DII before and were very competitive - we’re always competitive. The mitigating factor is the money to travel.

- Jackie Finlan © www.erugbynews.com

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