The History of USA Rugby Club XVs National Championships

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - USA Rugby has been crowning Men's and Women's Club Champions since 1979. That year, Wisconsin Rugby fell to Florida State for the Women's Division National Championship. Thirty-seven years later, Wisconsin is still competing for National Championships - just in a different division.

Wisconsin will not be the only team with a championship pedigree vying for a Club title at the June 4-5 USA Rugby Club Championships. In fact, all but two clubs competing at this year's Club Championships have played in a National Championship Final before.

Considering both Men's and Women's DI rugby have seen their share of programs have dominant runs of seemingly unstoppable proportions, it is amazing such a diverse group of clubs have won National Championships. Teams representing the San Francisco Bay Area have had plenty of time in the Club Championship sun. The storied Old Blues, a team mostly made up of University of California, Berkeley, graduates, won seven of nine Men's DI titles from 1979 to 1987.

On the women's side, the Bay Area SheHawks staked claim as the best team in the country four times from 1989 to 1995 before the Berkeley All Blues took a stranglehold over the field. From 1994 to 2008 the All Blues won National Championships, and finished as runner-up in each of the three seasons they did not win it all during that span.

Southern California has had its stretches of dominance, as well. Old Mission Beach Athletic Club won five Championships from the late 1980s and into the 1990s, with only Denver Barbarians, Old Blues, and Potomac Athletic breaking up its 10-year run of excellence. More recently, it was the San Diego Surfers earning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

The list of National Championship winners on Men's and Women's DII, as well as Men's DIII, is not as long as DI but has featured much more parity. Aside from Santa Rosa winning two of the first three Men's DII titles starting in 1992, no Men's DII or DIII squad has managed two consecutive Championships. Wisconsin has the opportunity this weekend to become just the third Women's DII club to win two consecutive National Championships. Only Detroit Rugby, Raleigh Venom and the Pittsburgh Angels have won more than two in a row, and never has it been done three consecutive years in Women's DII.

As previously mentioned, three-quarters of next weekend's Club Championships field has been in this position before - that is including Life West. The Gladiatrix will be playing in their first Final, but their male counterparts, the Life West Gladiators, lost in the DIII title game in 2014, before winning the club's first Championship last year when Life West beat Wisconsin Rugby in the Men's DII National Championship.

Life West appeared to be heading back to Nationals, this time in DI, but the Austin Blacks had other ideas. The Blacks, who beat the Gladiators in the Semifinals, have been turned back three times in the Men's DI Club Finals - most recently last year against a Mike Petri-led New York Athletic Club. Austin should be in better shape than it was a year ago thanks to last season's deep Club Playoff run, but will still have its hands full with Mystic River Rugby. The Massachusetts club opened a lot of eyes at last year's Club 7s National Championships, and now has a chance to compete for its first 15s National Championship since Mystic River fell to the Old Blues in 1992.

Wisconsin is not the only team preparing to defend a National Championship. The Seattle Saracens were the second straight squad from the Pacific Northwest to win a Women's DI Championship, following up on Oregon Sports Union's 2014 triumph over Chicago North Shore. If the Saracens want to make it two-for-two, they will have to do so against North Shore, which won its own crown in 2011 over Glendale Raptors.

Just as North Shore was upended in a 2014 Championship Final, so, too, were the Tempe Old Devils. It was at the end of that season the team underperformed against Rocky Gorge and finished second overall in Men's DII. The 2014 defeat was Tempe's third Finals appearance, and the club is still eagerly waiting to raise its first National Championships banner.

Standing between the Old Devils and its first National Championship is the first-time Finalist Detroit Tradesmen. The DII Midwest Champions have recently lost a starter in Men's Eagles Sevens and PRO Rugby Ohio's Ahmad Harajly, yet have built their overall roster depth and skill that has allowed the Tradesmen to make a run to their first National Championship - even after passing along a terrific talent to higher rugby honors.

Since Men's DIII Club Rugby began playing for a National Championship in 2000, only one program has won multiple titles. The Reno Zephyrs hoisted two National Championship trophies, and those were separated by five years.

More and more DIII sides are growing in their competitive nature, making it difficult for clubs to win multiple conference titles in a row - let alone National Championships. This Club Playoff season is case and point. Neither of last year's DIII Finalists, the Tri-City and Wichita Barbarians, reached the National round of 16. Next weekend the Euless Texans leave the Lone Star State for the Rocky Mountains to play for a DIII Championship against Fairfield Yankees. The Texans are preparing for the club's first-ever National Final, while the Yankees bagged a DII title back in 2004.

The 2016 USA Rugby Club Championships will be hosted by the City of Glendale and Infinity Park from June 4-5. The 4,000-person capacity rugby stadium will be the Club Championship setting for the eighth time in the past nine years.

Saturday's portion of Club Championships will feature a double-dose of Women's Finals when the DII title is contested for at 3 p.m. MT, followed by the DI Championship at 5 p.m. MT.