Club National Championship Matchups Set After Exciting Weekend of Rugby

A weekend of thrilling rugby has concluded, and with its conclusion brings five new matchups for the 2019 USA Rugby Club National Championships, to be played on June 1 and 2. The East champions provided a new set of regional champions from 2018, while the West gave way to four new regional champions and one returning champion, the Austin Blacks D3. Details on the schedule for the national championships to be released shortly. 

Eastern Champions:

Men’s Division I:

The first teams to know whether or not they qualified were the men’s Division I sides. In the East it would be either the Midwest Champions, Chicago Lions or Life’s Running Eagles. The game began at a blistering pace, for Life. The Running Eagles wasted no time establishing a commanding 21-0 lead after only 27 minutes. Chicago looked answerless and it only got worse when they conceded another try with 5 minutes left In the half, staring down the barrel of a 28-0 half time deficit. However, a try to wing Brian Rooney saw the Lions leave the half with points on the board and the momentum. As the second half kicked off, the Lions made some tactical substitutions that immediately began to pay dividends. The fresh legs and cool heads of Cameron Spencer and Jacob Hidalgo were able to start building momentum and scoring opportunities. With only 10 minutes remaining the deficit was cut to nine. However, tempers flared late in the match disrupting attacking opportunities for both teams and Life, despite not scoring in the second half held on to win the match, 28-19.

 

Women’s Division I:

On Sunday, Northern Virginia Rugby beat last year’s Eastern Champions, the Raleigh Venom, to claim their bid to the National Championship. NOVA advanced to the championship round after a dominant 44-10 win over Metropolis; while Raleigh were able to get through via a 89-0 drubbing of Detroit. The Eastern Championship marked the third time these two teams had met during the season. Entering the fixture the series was split at one apiece. However, it looked like Raleigh were going to run away with the Eastern Championship as they took an early 21-8 lead after 30 minutes. However, the game was turned on its head in the final ten minutes of the first half. Two tries in the space of five minutes saw NOVA trailing by only one at the half. Momentum stayed with the NOVA throughout the second half as they were clinical in attack and defense scoring 31 unanswered points in the second half.

 

Men’s Division II:

Atlanta Old White qualified for the National Championship, as they beat the Doylestown Dragons in the most dramatic style imaginable. Both teams qualified solid wins on Saturday. Doylestown dominated Buffalo, 62-0; while Old White got up over the Cleveland Crusaders, 28-14. The Championship match started at a relatively slow pace, with teams swapping penalties in the opening 30 minutes. A flurry of points from either side ended the first half with Old White ahead, 13-6. Doylestown were on the right side of the referee to start the second half, as they slotted two penalties to draw within one point. However, hope seemed loss when issued a yellow card in the 62nd minute. That didn’t stop the Dragons, as against the flow, an intercepted pass on the 50 saw Kevin Mirales dot the ball under the sticks; and for the first time since the second minute Doylestown had the lead. Old White stormed back to retake the lead in the 75th minute and looked to have secured the match, only to have Doylestown recapture the lead on the second last play of the game. Old White, in true championship spirit, reclaimed the ball from the kickoff and after a string of phases, an incisive cut from Lucas Baistrocchi opened a hole for Jarrod Byrne to score the game winning try in over time. Old White winning, 27-24.

 

Women’s Division II:

Entering the weekend Harrisburg looked to be the most dominant team on paper, and they proved their form, winning the East Women’s Division II Championship. They were victorious over the Atlanta Harlequins D2 squad. Both teams made it through to the national semifinal via impressive performance on the first day of competition. Harrisburg knocked over Providence 52-38, and the Atlanta Harlequins beat a tough Buffalo side, 30-24. Going into the East Championship, it looked to be anybody’s game, Harrisburg quickly put an end to any speculation of who would be triumphant- running out to a 14-0 lead. While the Harlequins were able to get on the board and reduce their deficit to only nine, Harrisburg always looked in control of the match, dominating on both ends. Their defense was impenetrable and when they won quick ball, they played the topography of the field to their advantage with brilliant clearing kicks. In attack they were clinical, led by the Rebecca Lengle and Georgia Goodman they continuously found holes in the Harlequins defense and used their electrifying speed to find the all-important outside corners. The Harlequins never stopped fighting and amidst a building injury list, they continued to show their desperation to win. Unfortunately, for them, Harrisburg seemingly had an answer for everything that was thrown at them. Harrisburg winning, 35-12. 30 of the 35 points were scored by Lengle or Goodman.

 

Men’s Division III:

Grand Rapids secured their spot in the national championship after two strong performances over both days of competition. It wasn’t easy going, however, as they had to fight through a tough Northeast Philadelphia Irish squad. Both teams made it through with Grand Rapids beating the Savannah Shamrocks and the Irish beating Long Island, 29-21 and 22-17- respectively. As was a theme throughout the weekend, Grand Rapids burst out to an early lead, but were unable to maintain it. After 20 minutes, Grand Rapids had a 13-0 lead. A try just before the half brought the Irish to within eight and looked to have brought them back into the match. The momentum didn’t carry through the second half, as Grand Rapids were able to claim the first points of the second half, extending the lead to 15 points. The Irish didn’t stop fighting though, scoring 12 unanswered to only trail by a penalty with 15 remaining. Grand Rapids, were clinical in their finishing and alleviated the pressure with a 72nd minute converted try. The Irish added another score before full time to set up an exciting finish, but they were not able to finish their comeback attempt. Grand Rapids, winning, 27-22.

 

Western Championships: 

Men’s Division I:

After just missing out last year, the Austin Blacks have qualified for a shot at the National Championship. It was another close match, but this time they were able to outlast a much improved Life West Gladiators side to make it through. It was a dream start to the Blacks who got out to 7-0 lead in the opening 5 minutes. However, thing stalled and Life West took advantage leveling the scores with just over ten remaining in the first half. The final ten minutes of the opening stanza were pivotal to the match, as Austin ran in 12 unanswered points before the end of the half. After 40 minutes Austin held a 19-7 lead over the Gladiators. Life West looked to have clawed back into the match, with a Tim Stanfill only three minutes into the second half. However, the Blacks responded and took momentum away again. It was another 10 minutes before the next points were scored, but they were crucial for Life West, as they brought the game back to a 24-21 scoreline. That’s as close as the Gladiators would get though, as Austin slotted a penalty in the 79th minute to secure victory.

 

Women’s Division I:

In arguably the most exciting set of matches throughout the weekend, the Austin Valkyries secured their first ever National Championship berth, by beating the Glendale Merlins D1 on match day 2. Glendale and Austin had looked inseparable after their first games of the weekend. Austin beat their Red River rivals, Houston Athletic, 46-10. The Merlins advanced off the back of a hat trick performance from Jess Dombrowski, 38-12. When they took the pitch on Sunday, Dombrowski picked up where she left off, scoring the opening try of the match in the 14th minute. Not long after Austin took the lead via a try from Caitlin Reedy and the subsequent conversion from Jordan Ynostrosa. The teams went back and forth for the rest of the half, answering each other’s tries. Glendale scored the final try of the half and carried a 17-14 lead into the break. Glendale then looked to be pulling away when Dombrowski scored her second of the day. However, something was sparked from within from Austin and they surged home, overcoming the eight point defect to score three unanswered tires. The 15-0 run was enough to see them over the line 29-22, and put them into Women’s Division I National Championship.

 

Men’s Division II:

It may be their first year in Division II, but Olympic Club is already proving to be a dominant force, as they qualified for the National Championship after a dominant 2nd half performance against the Wichita Barbarians. Olympic Club won a tough game against the San Diego Old Aztecs to qualify, 28-15; the Barbarians edged out the Austin Blacks D2, 29-19. In the final both teams played close semifinals so the championship was expected to be the same. The first forty minutes played out to expectations, if not exceeding them. Both teams were locked in at 29 apiece at the close of the first half. Then Olympic kicked it up a gear, and scored 17 unanswered points in just over 10 minutes to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Josh Tucker and Mark Bowers were the two catalysts behind the second half performance, each scoring a brace. Olympic Club advancing, 74-29.

 

Women’s Division II:

After a promising regular season faded away at the national level last year, the Sacramento Amazons were determined not to let this year’s campaign suffer a similar fate. They made sure of that with a 64-24 victory over last year’s Western Champions, the St. Louis Sabres. The teams advanced to the final thanks to wins over the Las Vegas Slots and Austin Valkyries D2, 80-12 and 41-12- respectively.  The result of the championship was never in doubt. From the opening whistle to the final whistle, Sacramento always looked like the team which would advance. Scoring three tries in the opening 13 minutes, to establish a 17-point lead- the Amazons proved their desire to win. The Amazon’s pack was the catalyst behind their success. Lock, Heather Snyder crossed twice for the win, but the forwards were all involved scoring left right and center. They had an obvious size and strength advantage and used that to control the tempo and dictate the terms under which the game was played. It will surely be an exciting clash in the National Championship, between two dominant teams.  

 

Men’s Division III:

The Austin Blacks D3 will look to defend their crown as the National Champions, after qualifying for the National Championship, with a big win over Kern County Rugby.  The Blacks were a class above the Queen City Rams on Day one winning 48-15. Kern County played a tighter affair with Napa Valley but made it through, 27-19. It was clear from the beginning of the weekend that Austin was a team hungry to repeat and it became clear early in their championship gmae the hunger hadn’t subsided after their first win. In the space of 27 minutes, the Blacks D3 had already established a 22-0 lead. A try and a conversion just before the half saw their lead extend to 29-0 heading into the sheds. The second half saw Kern County attempt to make it back into the match, but it was too much to overcome as Austin did not go away and continued to press towards their hopes of repeating as national champions. When the full time whistle was blown, Austin was ahead 41-12. In a complete team performance their six tries were scored by six different players.