JONESBORO, Ark. (AStateRedWolves.com) - For Arkansas State University's rugby program, the weekend can't get here quick enough. The Red Wolves, ranked No. 1 in the nation, will depart Friday morning (Nov. 22) for Greensboro, N.C., to play in the 2013 USA Rugby College Sevens National Championship, and they have one goal—to defend the championship they won a year ago.
The tournament will be played Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23-24, at the Bryan Park Soccer Complex. Arkansas State, undefeated at 13-0, will open tournament play with North Texas Saturday morning. The Red Wolves are the top team in Pool A after earning an automatic bid to the championship. Other universities in Pool A include 16th-ranked Oregon State, and 25th-ranked Florida.
"North Texas is a very well coached team," said Matt Huckaby who is serving as the head coach on an interim basis to close out the fall season. New head coach NeMani Delaibitiki will take the reins in the spring. "North Texas runs hard and plays hard, and we will not be taking them or anyone lightly this weekend."
The Red Wolves earned the automatic berth after snagging the South Independent Sevens qualifier in Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 28. Arkansas State played host to an informal four-team tourney Nov. 8, the Elite 7s Invitational, which also included Lindenwood, Oklahoma and Davenport. A-State defeated all three.
"Our guys are ready," continued Huckaby. "The mental attitude is great. The guys have really worked hard on their big game temperament—BGT. I learned that term from a former player and it stuck with me. In this way, I really feel like the guys are hungry for the tough games instead of shying away from the stage. They know these games will be the ones which define them."
Huckaby acknowledged that the Red Wolves are excited to play but are not overconfident and are going into every game with a high level of excitement. "We're a humble team this year," he said. "The players want to test themselves, play hard and measure themselves."
Huckaby has been pleased throughout the season with the play of senior Dylan Carrion, a 5-8, 150-pound scrumhalf from Plano, Texas. Carrion showed his skills in the Elites Invitational by scoring on five tries. Huckaby also praised the efforts of sophomore Harry Higgins, a 6-4, 225-pounder from Brisbane, Australia, and fullback Zinzan Elan-Puttick, a 6-0, 180-pound senior from Bloemfontein, South Africa.
All-American Shaun Potgieter, who sat out the fall to get healthy, has been cleared to play. Rugbymag.com calls the 6-3, 215-pounder from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, "the best collegiate 7s forward in America when he's healthy."
"This is a special group and there are a lot of feelings with these guys in particular," said Huckaby. "We have a wonderful new coach in NeMani Delaibitiki, and I am really looking forward to helping him establish his directions with the team. He has a very energetic and positive coaching style that is really resonating with the team."
Huckaby is excited as well. It's been nearly a year since Arkansas State brought home the championship trophy, but he knows, too, his team will have to work hard against some stiff competition. After all, he is a former player and two-time All-America pick who played for his dad, Curt. Curt voluntarily resurrected the rugby program and was the team's head coach for 14 years before stepping down in 2010.
"The team is as strong as any we have had; we are healthy, fit and ready. No excuses. We feel that true champions have to defend their championship at least once. This and our founder, Curt Huckaby, are what we are playing for, and we mean business."
Matches at the 2013 College Sevens National Championship will be streamed live on USARugbyTV.com. Select matches on Sunday will also be available on ESPN3.