Coach Merideth's 2015-2016 year in review

2015 – 2016

The USAFA 2015 – 2016 USAFA Rugby Team took on a monumental schedule and embarked on a transformational approach that leaves a legacy and a marker for future teams. The ultimate success of this year lies in the strength of the foundation laid by every member of the team through a year of experience that truly put to the test a team in transition. However, the record of the team and the subsequent platform upon which next year’s team will propel itself even further pales in comparison to the absolute character the team displayed on and off the pitch exhibiting a true sense of dedication to the “spirit of rugby”.

            At the beginning of the season the team chose to pursue a schedule that would rigorously challenge their physical, mental, time and personal finances all in an effort to virtually gain strong competitive experience in a short 9 months. Everyone knew this commitment would be demanding and as the blood and sweat began to gather on the pitch the magnitude of the effort was valued. The team traveled to the east coast, west coast, and New Zealand to play top teams. In three consecutive weekends our players traveled to compete against the #1, #2, and #3 ranked teams. Additionally, in New Zealand the team played three high intensity matches in 4 days. Those playing in the full match schedule self-funded the extraordinary commitment to the team. This massive effort truly put the players, the coaches and the administrators through an extremely tough year.

            The mechanics of the season began with a complete new staff of administrators who conducted an in-depth analysis of the support requirements and dynamics of the team. Their insight led to the designation of a new head coach and pulling together a coaching staff of very talented and experienced personnel. The coaching staff quickly began a cohesive approach to refining the skills and playing style of the team. Those players who had some experience were soon re-learning the basics – passing, rucking, attack and structure – from an entirely new perspective while the stable of new recruits were put to the test early and often.

            The season brought exhilaration, pride and sheer agony. The basics learned right and executed to perfection were displayed in fleeting series of continuity and in entire matches bringing confidence and enjoyment to the players. Beating the New Zealand Air Force on an immaculate pitch in Christchurch will certainly be a highlight long remembered. Playing head-to-head with Cal through 36 minutes of play proved the capability of the team but Cal and the more experienced top teams proved difficult throughout an entire 80 minutes of play. However, every match demonstrated that the players never quit no matter the score or the opponent. After beating Cal-Poly on Saturday with intensity the team faced a fully rested St. Mary’s College the very next day. Although getting down early in the match the men actually came back the second half playing physically head-to-head at a time when they should have been emaciated – needless to say St. Mary’s players and coaches were amazed. Perhaps one of the most impressive demonstrations of the true character of the team was in a close loss to Utah in Varsity Cup play. Unfortunately the referee disallowed tries and called momentum changing penalties that would have demoralized a lesser team however our young men never complained, kept their nose to the grindstone, and played their hearts out in a back and forth contest to the very end. The Zoomies walked off the pitch with heads held high and proudly shook hands with opponents who knew they had been beaten by a better team even in spite of the score.

            In a nutshell the team worked hard, met the challenges and has come away knowing everyone contributed to building a solid foundation of fundamentals. In order to capitalize on this foundation two key aspects must be emphasized for next year:  fine-tuning the A side into a visionary team and secondly, building depth for sustainability by dedicated training, matches, and enthusiasm for the B and C sides.

            The leadership and commitment of the handful of seniors who bought-in to the plan for building a better team deserve significant praise. They have truly been on the threshold of this approach. The returning players – strong, committed, and now experienced – are ready to launch from this foundation. The OICs along with a fantastic athletic trainer and a dedicated manager, all worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make this milestone year a reality. Without their selfless commitment none of the advances could have happened. Additionally, there are untold scores of supporters and alumni who gave of their time and money who are part of the team and deserve a round of gratitude.