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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2017

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Rugby teams qualify for national tournament

Rugby teams qualify for national tournament
Tim Brown

Tim Brown

By CHRIS MARKHAM

Late last spring, the women’s rugby team at the University of Mary Washington was crowned the national champion after their 36-22 win over California State Northridge in the Division II national championship game. This year, the Eagles will have the opportunity to do it all over again after qualifying for the national tournament by virtue of their conference title earned over this past weekend.

UMW hosted the Capital Conference rugby playoffs at the Battlegrounds last weekend, inviting teams from George Washington University, George Mason University and Salisbury University to compete for the Conference championship and, ultimately, a spot in the national tournament.

The Eagles began with a match against GWU, an opponent they expected to have some difficulties competing against in the game. This expectation could not be further from the reality.

UMW dominated George Washington by a score of 111-0, advancing to the conference title game and a date with Salisbury.

“We were expecting a hard match, but by no means was it easy,” said junior Maddy Ernesto.

The title game against the Sea Gulls would prove to be a much more difficult test for the Eagles. Staying level with Salisbury for a majority of the match, the Eagles were sparked by a late game score to propel them over the top.

“It was a much more stressful match,” Ernesto said. “We had to work more as a cohesive unit.”

With the wins, the Eagles clinch a berth in the national tournament, looking to defend the championship they won in the spring.

The men’s rugby team will also join the women in the national tournament. The Eagles won the NSCRO tournament title hosted at the University of Richmond, defeating Duke University 35-27, earning them a berth in the national tournament as well.

The women do not begin their tournament play until late April. All games played by them between now and the playoffs hold little meaning, as the results of their matches have no implication on their playoff seeding.

The men’s on the other hand will play in the Round of 32 on Nov. 23 against Neumann University. A win then will put the men into the next round of the tournament, which is to be played in late April.

The teams will be working on fundamentals between now and then and working to prevent injuries that could potentially derail they title hunt.

“We are focusing on working in more of spread line, making us more cohesive,” Ernesto said. “The level of play in rugby has changed and become more complicated, forcing players to play more than one position.”

Both rugby teams are two of the largest and most successful groups at UMW, making the clubs some of the most sought after groups at the school. Despite the large numbers, the teams emphasize that they are always looking for new members.

“We made it as far as we did last year because of the new people we added in the spring,” Ernesto said.

The team did not experience a huge loss of senior leadership, graduating only seven members. However, this year the team consists of 16 seniors, providing an ample amount of leadership and motivation while also bring the need for replacement players to attention.

“We are always looking for new players,” Ernesto said.

Winning a national championship is no easy feat, defending one even more so. The Eagles will look to accomplish both of these tasks to add onto their already impressive resumes.

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