Catholic University rugby players finished their season with a fight, as the women’s club took second in the nation and men’s club advanced to the regional finals in their divisions within the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO).
The women’s team, in particular, had an exciting year as it advanced to the championship final after making it into the NSCRO Final Four for the first time. This past weekend, the team competed at Life University in Marietta, Ga., where it conquered a squad from Salve Regina University in the national semi-final before bowing in the championship game to Wayne State University on Dec. 1. The final score was 67-12.
Alex Schaefer, coach of the women’s team, said she was proud the team made it to the championship final and pointed out how far the team has come from a winless season only four years ago. She credits much of that improvement to an increased focus on recruiting and building fundamental skills, as well as the presence of co-coach Kyle Prudence, who joined the team two years ago, bringing a new set of experiences and expertise.
Schaefer also attributes this year’s success to a team-wide culture of accountability and high expectations that has been player-led.
“Our team really began putting in the effort outside of classes to make sure our practice time was valuable,” said Schaefer. “Having those consistent numbers at practice and that sense of player accountability has been instrumental and it’s now truly ingrained and expected on the team.”
Last year, the women’s team advanced to the national stage for the first time, competing in the championship tournament’s Sweet 16. Then, this November, it travelled to York College, Pa., for the NCSRO regional playoffs, where it earned a 36-0 victory over Scranton University before also defeating Lee University in a 12-5 game and securing the title of Mid-Atlantic Champions.
“The team didn’t get there by happenstance,” Schaefer said. “They earned every second of it and really fought all season long and put in the work training the new girls and polishing the skills to be competitive.
“Four players will graduate this year who have been with the team for four or five years and they’re why the program is so successful,” Schaefer continued. “To watch them celebrate after winning the Elite 8 match and realizing we were going to the Final Four, that was really powerful.”
Numerous players received honors during the Final Four tournament, including senior Christina Peyroux, who received the NCSRO Impact Player Award, and senior Courtney Gosse, who received the Heart & Soul Award. NSCRO All Championship Team selections included juniors Elizabeth Eways, Liz DeMars, Ally Massa, and sophomore Julia Malcotti. Coach Schaefer also praised the dedication of team captains Gosse and Massa.
In the future, she said she would love to see the team return to the championships, but also hopes to continue fostering an atmosphere of “having fun and playing good rugby” while helping players grow in confidence and “an understanding of how powerful they are as human beings.”
Prudence noted that it was an “honor to help pilot the team to this level of competition,” and that he now has renewed motivation to continue the success in the future.
“It's been amazing to watch the rookies learn the game and step up to be huge contributors, the veterans growing their skills and assisting those rookies' development, and simply the team bonding both socially and athletically,” he said.
The men’s team, which ranked as high as No. 4 in the NSCRO coaches poll, also had a successful season, posting a 43-5 win over Bucknell in mid-November to become one of four teams to compete in the Region 2 championships earlier this month. But after beating Eckerd College on Dec. 1, the team fell to Christendom College 43-24 in the regional final.
Team president John Flynn, a junior, said this was the third year the team has competed in the Round of 16 weekend. He credits the “really talented group” of athletes on the team and, especially, the leadership abilities of this year’s group of 11 seniors, including senior captains Dylan Bonsignore and James Tweedy.
“We instituted a new pattern of play this year which was very successful because we were able to play to our strengths as a team,” Flynn said.
Competing in the Region 2 championships was “nothing to take lightly,” Flynn added, “but another big opportunity for us to play to our potential and make a statement that we deserve a chance to compete for a national championship.”
“Making it back to the national tournament again was a great experience,” said Bonsignore. “I am proud of my teammates for all the hard work they had put in this season. We had a talented group of guys and on top of that I believe it was our team chemistry that really allowed us to excel as far as we did this season. I can't imagine playing rugby these past four years on another team or with any other guys.”