College 7s 2016: Saint Mary's, Life crowned DI National Champions

CARY, N.C. - Saint Mary's rebounded from a loss in the D1A Rugby Final earlier this month to win the 2016 USA Rugby Men's Division I College 7s National Championship at WakeMed Soccer Park Sunday.

The shortened schedule for Sunday at College 7s - due to the effects of Tropical Storm Bonnie - resulted in the Cup Semifinals for each of the four divisions opening Day Three play. Gael Dylan Audsley followed up a hat-trick performance in the 19-12 Semifinal defeat of Arizona State with a leader's performance in the Final, with an American International team that has proved its sevens pedigree over the years.

Coached by SMC graduates Kingsley McGowan and Joey Reavey in the absence of Head Coach Tim O'Brien, the Gaels did not dwell on a Semifinal exit at College 7s in 2015 nor the end of their D1A Final streak.

"We are always continually working," Audsley, the Dave Sitton Memorial Trophy winner as Most Valuable Player of the Men's DI Final, said. "Every game is a new game.

"The coaching is phenomenal. We've got guys coming through the program, graduating, and becoming coaches themselves. They're standout guys."

The Yellow Jackets put the first points up on the board in Cup Final, and nearly had the last say in the dying seconds after Saint Mary's had taken 7-5 lead, which it had held at the half-time break. Christian Adams brought the crowd in Cary to its feet with a run down the wing as time ticked away, and used his strength to fend off multiple Gaels on his way into the in-goal area.

Showing their championship caliber, the Saint Mary's defenders held up the attacker in the try zone and won the ensuing five-meter scrum to end the game and secure the National Champion title.

If it had not been for the MVP's hat trick in the Cup Semifinal, Arizona State would have been in the Final. The Sun Devils did not let the first loss of its College 7s campaign ruin their weekend, keeping last year's runner-up, Davenport, to just a lone try in a 24-5 third-place match victory. Lindenwood came back from a scoreless experience in the Quarterfinals to win the Plate at the expense of West Virginia, while Alabama won a Shield Final overtime thriller against San Diego State. Bowling Green outshined St. Bonaventure in the Bowl Final.

Life had its own spring of disappointment in the 15s game, but shined in the Olympic sport of rugby sevens at the Atlanta 7s Festival alongside the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series event. That form continued into the National Championship event in Cary as the Running Eagles swept pool play to earn the top seed in the knockout rounds.

There was still work to do Sunday, as Life faced a well-coached, on-the-rise Stanford side in the Semifinal that kicked 2015 runner-up Central Washington out of the competition. Having overcome that obstacle, 26-0, the Running Eagles faced a Lindenwood team that sent reigning College 7s Champion Penn State home, a team with which it became familiar at the Atlanta7s Festival.

On the Running Eagles' side heading into the Final at WakeMed Soccer Park was the mentality some National Championship contenders lack: concern for the greater picture.

"We just wanted to play for something bigger . . . for those who are belittled," Life captain and AIG Women's Collegiate All-American Nicole Strasko said, speaking in regards to the constitutionally protected rights of underrepresented minorities in the United States. "We also play for each other. We've been working really hard throughout the season and in the offseason, just building each other up is what kept pushing us."

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Strasko had been shown a yellow card two minutes after Life had taken a 5-0 lead, an advantage that would hold up after the 14-minute Final had completed, 10-0.

The Wildcats of Central Washington did not end their College 7s campaign with a loss, beating 15s Spring Championship runner-up Virginia, 29-0, in the Plate Final. The Nittany Lions also ended the Memorial Day weekend tournament on a high with a third-place finish against Stanford.