The men’s rugby team will try to remain undefeated as it travels to Middlebury College this weekend for the Division II semifinals of the New England Championships.

The Elis (6-0) defeated Trinity College, 26-0, at home last Saturday to advance to the semifinals.

After the Bulldogs play the host Panthers on Saturday, they will take on either Colby College or their chief rival, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Sunday. The Mules and the Bears will face off in the other semifinal Saturday. The top three teams from the New England region will advance to the Northeastern Championships, meaning the Bulldogs must win either their semifinal match against Middlebury or a consolation match on Sunday to qualify for the Championships.

The Saturday game will be a rematch of the 2003 New England regional semifinal. The Bulldogs lost that game to Middlebury, 37-6. Captain Michael Atkins ’05, who plays center, said that he thought the Elis’ chances are better this year.

“Middlebury is going to be a tough game, but I think we can win,” he said.

If the Bulldogs win both games this weekend, they will have the home field advantage at the beginning of the Northeastern Championships. Flyhalf Rob Smith ’06 said that the home field advantage would save the team money and travel time.

“Not having the home field advantage could mean we have to go to Buffalo or Albany for one game,” he said.

To prepare for the games this weekend, the team is concentrating on maintaining the mental focus that flanker Nick Moscow ’06 said has been missing recently.

“We’re mostly focused on not making dumb mistakes,” he said.

Players said that they did not plan to change their strategies for games this weekend.

“We’ll definitely stay with the winning strategy we’ve had all year,” Smith said. “There’s no reason to go away from that.”

Atkins said that it has been difficult to maintain the intensity of practice, especially as the season draws to a close.

“Rugby is a very demanding sport, both in terms of mentally and physically,” he said. “It’s tough to maintain that highest level of intensity throughout an entire season.”

Players point to coach Jan Pikul as central to the team’s recent successes.

“A big thing is we have a coach who has been there for more trainings and has been there for all the games,” Atkins said.

Moscow said that this year, the team has come together to play cohesively on a higher level. He said that in earlier seasons, rugby games resembled pick-up football or intramural soccer because teammates were not working together to score.

“[Now] everybody has an idea of where they’re supposed to be on the field,” Moscow said.

Despite a string of injuries to some of the team’s best and most experienced players, the Bulldogs have shown marked improvement since last year. Players credit the continued success to the team’s depth.

“The freshmen and younger kids have helped us this year,” Smith said.