By: Dana Becker, The Messenger Sports Reporter
MARIETTA, Ga. — The goal for Brent Nelson and his Iowa Central rugby program is to be recognized as the top small college team in the nation.
The top-ranked Tritons will have their shot at doing just that here beginning Friday when they meet Loyola of Maryland in the semifinals of the National Small College Rugby Organization Champions Cup.
Match time is set for 5 p.m. (Iowa time) from the Lupo Family Field on the Life University campus. In the other semifinal is Salve Regina and defending national champion The Claremont Colleges.
"This is a huge weekend for our program," Nelson said. "We have moved up to the Champions Cup level and are ranked No. 1, which puts a big-time target on our back — which we are fine with.
"We want to be the best in the country at the small college level and we're going to get a chance to show that."
Iowa Central (13-2 overall) qualified for the event by winning the Region 3 title over Franciscan, 127-3 earlier this month. They picked up tourney wins over Thomas More (119-3) and No. 6 Xavier (103-3). Xavier was the third place finisher in 2017.
Fifth-rated Loyola advanced with a 51-15 victory over Tennessee Tech after surviving in overtime vs. No. 9 Catholic University. Salve Regina is currently ranked second and The Claremont Colleges is fourth.
"I don't know a whole lot about Loyola, but I do know they'll be fired up to play us,"Nelson said. "And I'm sure Claremont probably isn't too happy about being ranked behind us."
Anti Mteto is the leading try scorer for the Tritons, who have suffered losses to a pair of Div. I opponents this season.
"We expect some really good rugby this weekend, but we like our chances," Nelson said. "I've never done anything in my life to go out and settle for second place.
"We didn't get a national championship last year and that still sticks with me and some of the players who were here. We want to see this through and bring back a title."