Lopes secure No. 7 seed in West Bracket; will face #2 Gaels for 2nd time in six weeks on April 13
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
The Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team has secured a berth in the D1A College Rugby Playoffs Round of 16 for the second straight year. The Lopes are seeded No. 7 in the West Bracket of the newly revamped D1A Rugby postseason format, and will face California Conference rival St. Mary’s College of California, who secured the 2nd seed in the west. The match will be played in Moraga, California next Saturday, April 13. The winner of the match will advance the Round of 8 the weekend of April 20 against the winner of the match between #6 UCLA and 3rd-seeded Brigham Young University.
There are a few main benefits to the new playoff format for the Lopes. First, the new selection process gives the 16 playoff-bound teams something they didn’t have a year ago: time. In 2018, the Lopes were notified of their road matchup against 3rd-seeded University of California in Berkeley just days before kickoff, thus creating extra travel nightmares because of the short turnaround, and allowing for very little preparation time against a team they’d never faced before. Second, since the new alignment for the D1A Rugby Nationals Round of 16 divides the country in two brackets (East and West), it prevents the Lopes from having to travel extremely far distances on short notice, since after the opening round, the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will be hosted at centralized locations in California. Last year, a win over Cal would’ve sent the Lopes to Annapolis, Maryland, for the second-round matchup against Navy (the Lopes lost to the Bears in Round 1).
Finally, the new bracket gave the Lopes a chance to possibly match up against a team they’re more familiar with than last year’s bracket. That’s exactly what happened for the Lopes this year – although GCU’s familiarity with SMC is by no means a guaranteed edge. The Lopes and Gaels spent much of the spring dueling each other for the top spot in the California Conference, and the regular season title was – for all practical purposes – decided in their matchup against each other March 2 at the GCU Practice Soccer Field on campus. Both teams arrived on campus that day with undefeated conference marks, but St. Mary’s headed home that Saturday with an 88-15 victory over the Lopes. The loss proved to be the only blemish on the Lopes’ 5-1 conference mark as they secured a 2nd-place finish with impressive wins over San Diego State and University of California-Davis the next two weeks.
Both teams will enter the matchup with losses to nationally ranked foes that closed out their respective regular seasons. The Lopes led No. 11 Central Washington University at halftime in Ellensburg, Washington on Saturday, but were shut out in the second half of a 22-8 loss that ended their regular season schedule with an overall record of 5-3. Meanwhile, the Gaels headed into a battle of the top two teams in the nation last Saturday with an undefeated record, but came out of their matchup with Cal with a 29-19 loss. The match next weekend will also be the first time that the Gaels have played on their field in nearly two months, since they finished out the regular season campaign with a five-match road trip. Their last home match was a win over San Diego State University on February 23.
The No. 7 Lopes and No. 2 Gaels will clash in the D1A Rugby Nationals Round of 16 matchup at 3 pm on Saturday, April 13th, at St. Mary’s Stadium on the SMC campus. The winner of the match gets one step closer to the D1A College Rugby National Championship Match on May 4 in Santa Clara, California.