Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU's Ryan Roundy as BYU defeats Cal 27-24 in rugby on a drop as time expires to win the Varsity Cup national championship Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Provo.

Coming off back-to-back national titles after winning last year’s Varsity Cup Championship, BYU rugby is looking for its third straight title heading into the 2014 season.

“We’re excited heading into this new season as we have some experience and depth coming back,” BYU head coach David Smyth said. “Every team comes into the season with areas of improvement. Our players need to step up and fill gaps. It will be a challenge but the effort has been there.”

The Cougars will count on returning players to lead the team, particularly their two three-time All-Americans flanker/lock Kyle Sumsion and center Seki Kofi. Other returning players of note include flanker Kody Thompson, prop David Collins, hooker Scott Gowdy, scrumhalf Luke Mocke, flyhalf Jonny Linehan, wings Jordan Lowry and Chris Wernli, and Will Taylor, who will be switching positions from fullback to lock this season.

“The biggest plus we have for us this year is the experience we have with players like Kyle Sumsion, Seki Kofe and Dave Collins,” Smyth said. “These boys know what it takes to take us deep into the season and give us a chance to compete in the big games.”

BYU will also add a number of players, with four returning from two-year LDS missions. Standout freshmen backs Jared and Josh Whippy are back, as well as flyhalf Josh Webber and speedy wing Josh Anderson. All four are by-products of Utah’s high school rugby programs with the Whippy’s and Webber hailing from United while Anderson developed his rugby skills with Highland.

Also joining the Cougars this season is 2013 BYU Rugby Summer Camp MVP utility back Jonah Lessard, who played his high school rugby for the Sacramento Eagles in the rugby hotbed of Northern California

The Cougars begin the season with a demanding weekend road trip Feb. 7-8, at the Red Rock Invitational in Mesquite, Nev., where they will face Weber State and the Air Force Academy. The Cougars will be tested again as they square off with California power St. Mary’s in the opening leg of the West Coast Cup on Feb. 15 in Moraga, Calif.

BYU then returns home for the month of March with games at South Field each weekend. The home stand begins March 1 against the Pacific Coast Premiership men’s side the Glendale Raptors, followed by the West Coast Cup’s return visit from St. Mary’s March 8.

Utah State and Utah Valley will visit Provo on March 15 and March 22, respectively, while another California rugby stalwart Cal Poly San Louis Obispo comes to town on March 26. The Cougars will see the second year of the Champions Challenge as BYU hosts 2013 champion men’s side San Francisco Golden Gate on March 29. The final regular season home game will be on April 4, as the Cougars host rival Utah in the Wasatch Cup.

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“We are going to have to be ready to play our best each week,” Smyth said. “There are not many easy teams on our schedule this year but that’s how we get better. We’ll take one game at a time and prepare as best we can.”

The Cougars conclude the season with a trip to Tempe, Ariz., to take on Arizona State in the Rugby Bowl on April 12, the last game before BYU travels to the Varsity Cup quarterfinals on April 19. Should the Cougars advance, BYU will move into the Varsity Cup semifinals at South Field on April 26. The Varsity Cup National Championship is slated for May 3, at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

To view the full schedule, visit the schedule page on the BYURugby website.

Justin Green is the sports information director over men's track and cross country for BYU Athletic Communications. He is a BYU student majoring in public relations and minoring in business and will graduate in April 2014. Email: justinjgreen8@gmail.