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University of Arizona rugby team hires replacement for late coach Dave Sitton

New UA rugby coach Sean Duffy. Photo via HawkRugby.com

New UA rugby coach Sean Duffy. Photo via HawkRugby.com

The University of Arizona rugby team, coached as a labor of love by Dave Sitton for 35 years, has hired a new head coach following Sitton’s death in August.

Sitton, known as “Pops” to his players, championed the sport as a coach and announcer, influencing the game on a national level.

In fact, the men’s Division I MVP Award for the 2013 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship was renamed to The Dave Sitton Memorial Trophy.

“We will miss his energy and enthusiasm,” USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez said in October. “With this award, perhaps we can remember that excellence is an objective worthy of a lifelong quest.”

Here is the press release Wednesday regarding Sean Duffy, the new head coach of Arizona rugby:

TUCSON, AZ (January 9, 2014) – The University of Arizona Men’s rugby team (www.wildcatrugby.org) has named Sean Duffy – assistant head coach at St. Joseph’s University, and former USA Rugby employee who helped develop the sport’s popularity both in the Eastern U.S. and internationally – as the first paid head coach in the Wildcats’ 45-year history.

Duffy, 26, previously served as assistant head coach/recruiting director for Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia and development officer for USA rugby (www.usarugby.org). Duffy replaces the late legendary coach Dave Sitton who passed away on August 12, 2013 after thirty five years at the helm of the University of Arizona (UA) program. The program currently has 60 players and has turned out numerous collegiate All-Americans, Eagles 15’s, and 7’s representatives.

“I’m honored to be appointed to this position and to carry on the legacy of Dave Sitton who helped establish Wildcat Rugby as one of the most successful collegiate rugby programs in the U.S.,” said Duffy. Duffy began coaching after a successful playing career for the Saint Joseph Hawks which won a league championship in 2008. As Head Coach of the Hawk’s Rugby Sevens team, Duffy’s squad made three straight appearances in the Las Vegas Invitational Sevens Tournament and earned its first-ever appearance in the nationally-televised Collegiate Rugby Championships in NBC in 2013.

Duffy’s rugby career began at Gonzaga College H.S. in Washington, DC where he was born.

“My goal is to not only ensure the Wildcats remain at the top of the collegiate game,” said Duffy “but to also help introduce the U.S. community more broadly to the great sport of rugby.”

Dr. Tyson Swetnam, the Wildcats’ associate head coach and interim head coach after Dave Sitton’s death said of Duffy: “Sean has a great combination of playing, coaching and development experience which will be a tremendous benefit for our rugby program and the University of Arizona.”

“We are excited to begin a new era for the University of Arizona Rugby Club with the addition of Coach Duffy,” said the rugby club president and team captain Trevor Laue. “We believe he will help lead our program to new success and build upon the traditions of our club.”

According to Dr. Swetnam, the coaching search committee appointed after Coach Sitton’s death identified Duffy based on the recommendations of several respected national level rugby personnel including Salty Thompson.

Thompson is Head Coach of the High School All Americans (HSAA) program, Director of the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy and father of recent UA player and current Eagle’s 7’s team member Brett Thompson.

The elder Thompson said the University of Arizona has acquired Duffy – one of the sport’s rising stars – at a time when Rugby is one of the fastest-growing collegiate sports.

“Sean understands there is a challenge to taking over the Wildcat’s program, but he’s well qualified and capable,” says Thompson.

The club’s players were ultimately responsible for Duffy’s selection, per University guidelines as the rugby team is considered a ‘club sport’ under the Department of Campus Recreation. The players cited Duffy’s contributions to various milestone initiatives with St. Joseph’s – including the awards of television contracts, corporate partnerships, and overseas tours – as well as grassroots development of the Keystone Conference that elevated rugby’s popularity on the East Coast as major strengths.

Both Thompson and Duffy agreed that the inclusion of Rugby 7’s in the 2016 Olympics will lead to ever greater opportunities for players in the U.S. and international leagues. Arizona is in the unique position of having produced three national team players over the last three seasons.

Incredibly, these athletes all chose to play rugby as a university sport on no athletic-scholarships, yet they now have the opportunity to possibly represent the USA as Olympians in two years.

The Wildcats kick off their 2014 season against nationally ranked (via Rugbymag.com 11/2013) St. Mary’s Gaels (#5) at home on January 17th. The Cats’ schedule is a tough one, with a half dozen perennially ranked opponents on deck after the Gaels including the: University of California at Berkeley (Cal)* (#2), UCLA* (#8), Cal Poly (#9), and Air Force (#16). Currently, both Utah* and Arizona State* are unranked but are expected to find their way back into the national spotlight later in the Spring. The Wildcats will travel to South Bend, Indiana, to play the Fighting Irish in the second annual Parseghian Cup on April 5th, 2014.

For more information about the Arizona Wildcat’s Rugby program please visit their website: www.wildcatrugby.org

*denotes PAC Conference match-ups.

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