Middlebury Rugby had an outstanding showing at the recent 7′s National Championship in College Station, Texas. After only about 5 hours of practice (total!) to prepare, the MCRC faced off against perennial collegiate power Cal in the first match. The team goal for the first day of the tournament was to win one game, but all knew that it would not likely come against Cal.
The Boys in Blue played absolutely ferocious defense, surprising the Golden Bears by keeping them scoreless for several minutes (an eternity in 7′s!). As the frustration mounted for Cal their disciplined attack finally broke thru with a converted try to make it 7-0. A quick re-start by Cal caught Midd off guard and led to another score before the half. Middlebury struggled to maintain possession throughout as Cal dominated the breakdown, and the relentless pressure led to a 29-0 Cal victory. The MCRC was proud to stay in the match throughout and clearly showed that they can play at this level.
The 2nd match of the day against Arkansas St. also saw a lopsided result in a 38-0 defeat for the Blue. The men from Arkansas were simply electric – hats off to a terrific team. While it’s never fun to lose, the MCRC can feel a little better the next day when Arkansas State goes on the win the National Championship, turning in even more lopsided victories along the way. Again, Middlebury shows that it is not as far away from contending as some nay-sayers predicted.
The 3rd and final match of Day 1 pool play was against North Carolina State. Both teams entered the match 0-2 and both were hungry for that important Day 1 victory. Intense defense was again the centerpiece of Middlebury’s game plan, and NC State’s attack was shut down again and again. This time Middlebury was able to mount some real scoring threats, and finally got on the scoreboard when Captain Dylan “Blackwells” Whitaker ’13 punched thru a gap and took it the distance. Next up was Allan “El Natural” Stafford ’13.5, who, like the finisher he is, finished an beautiful Middlebury attack . NC State scored a converted try in the 2nd half to get within striking distance, but with time running out Adam “Muttonchops” Schreiber ’14 collects a clearing kick and scores the clincher in the corner. The final score is 19-7 Middlebury.
Day 2 sees Middlebury as the 2nd highest seed in the Shield bracket facing off against Colorado State in the quarterfinals. Again, and not surprisingly, Middlebury sets the tone through aggressive defense. Captain Ben “Sturgees” Stasiuk ’13.5 leads from the front, including a memorable sequence where he makes three consecutive tackles. This kind of pressure keeps the Rams on their back foot, and Middlebury capitalizes. Scoring is led by Mr. Stasiuk with 2 tries, the second of which comes right after he signals the sideline to come off. Turning back from the coaches to the action he sees he is free in an over-lap, receives a perfect pass from Laird “Godzilla” Silsby ’15, and turns on the afterburners to beat the defense and touch down for the try. Another try and 2 conversions from Schreiber and Middlebury is again victorious 19-7.
After some predicted The MCRC to go winless, the team is now 2-2 and thru to the Shield semi-finals, and has shown that they belong performing at the highest level in the country.
The semi-final opponent is Davenport, back-to-back D-IAA National Champions in 15′s. The match is incredibly physical and tight defensively. Middlebury takes a 7-0 lead when High School All-American 7′s player Jake Feury ’16 punches through and gets his first score. Feury is fresh off a fine season with the Middlebury football team, and while an outstanding rugby player has not practiced hardly at all in months. He plays in every game in the tournament and is an absolute rock at center. We look forward to many more games with him.
Midd makes a crucial error at the re-start kicking the ball directly to touch and handing a mid-field re-start to Davenport. All-American flyhalf JP Eloff takes the tap and dances his way 50 meters to a try. This is a huge momentum swing and gets Davenport right back in the game. The game clock shows no time remaining with the score tied at 7, but the referee allows the game to go on. Both teams are running out of gas and looking for the brief break before sudden-death overtime when Davenport gets an overload and scores the dagger to Middlebury hearts directly under the posts. Final 14-7 to Davenport.
Davenport goes on to win the Shield, slightly assuaging the sting of the loss, but not very much. Midd knows they had the win within reach, but were not quite able to grab it. A lack of practice time, 7′s conditioning and overall experience were the difference makers here.
The consolation game sees Midd face off against Bowling Green. Both teams are exhausted from 2 days of competition and mounting injuries. For the Blue, Captains Stasiuk and Brian Sirkia ’12.5 are both out. The Davenport game marks the final match for MCRC legend and All-American Sirkia. His leadership on and off the field have set the tone for the past 3 years. True to form, Sirkia doesn’t rest, but runs water to his teammates throughout the Bowling Green match. It sends a strong message to the freshmen to see not 1, but 2 Captains working so hard to support the team when they aren’t even dressing for the game.
Bowling Green jumps out to an early lead, but The MCRC never quits. Feury turns in a cracker and shows he can drop-kick with the best of them. Final is 28-14 Bowling Green, and Middlebury finishes the tournament as Shield semi-finalists with an overall record of 2-4.
The MCRC went to Texas with the goal of showing that it can compete at the highest level. More specifically the team wanted a win in pool play and a play-off win. Lofty goals considering the quality of competition and the utter lack of prep time. Nearly every single other team has played 7′s all fall, compared to a handful of practices for Midd. All goals were met, and, as always, this author is so incredibly proud to be a part of this program. The Men from Midd played with heart, with courage and with convictions and met every challenge head-on. Congratulations to all the members of The MCRC!