BETHESDA, Md. | The Wabash rugby team was awarded third place at their debut National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) 7s Championships, which took place over the weekend of April 28-30 in Germantown, Maryland.
The Little Giants went 2-0 in pool play on the opening day of the tournament, earning the #1 seed for the knockout stage with a +57 point differential. They earned a bye directly into the semifinals, where they fell to a narrow 20-26 defeat at the hands of Springfield College on Saturday, April 29.
Wabash should have played a third/fourth place playoff game on Sunday, April 30, but the match was canceled due to the inclement weather. As a result, NCR awarded third place to Wabash because of their more favorable point differential in the semifinal.
“We knew we had the ability to win, and we came slightly short of our goal,” said Matthew Brooks ’24. “But I think we are all very happy and content with that third place victory. We’ve got some hardware, and we’re definitely excited to return next year and take on that championship.”
In pool play, Wabash first took on the University of Maine, who finished fifth in last year’s tournament. After a slightly shaky opening couple of minutes, the Little Giants pulled off an emphatic 40-7 victory to get their competition off to an excellent start. Club captain Brayden Goodnight ’23 scored a hat-trick of tries to propel Wabash forward, supported by additional tries from Brooks and Adan Villeda ’23.
“Maine placed fifth last year, so we were a little scared to play them,” said Thomas Gastineau ’23. “But we also just went out there and played our rugby. We came out in the first game, I let up that first run, but then we bounced back as a team. From that moment forward, we had a sense of confidence in ourselves and a really good sense of team camaraderie.”
“We sent them back to the hills of Maine,” said Matthew Brooks ’24.
The second pool play game was against Loyola University Maryland, and once again the Little Giants came out on top. Goodnight added two more tries to his tally, with Villeda and Gastineau rounding out the scoring. The final score was 24-0 in Wabash’s favor.
The weather on opening day was atrocious, with heavy rain making the pitches and ball remarkably slippery. Wabash adjusted well to the conditions, but several games later on in the day had to be postponed due to flooding.
“We have a running curse that, whenever we enter the pitch, the rain comes,” said Filippo DeFrenza ’23. “Honestly, it didn’t bother us at all.”
As a result of the postponements, the day two schedule was re-shaped so that the top two seeded teams would receive byes directly into the semifinals. Wabash and Babson College, who went on to win the championship, skipped the quarterfinals and progressed to their respective final four matches later that day.
Wabash faced off against Springfield in the semifinal, and the Little Giants got off to an electric start in the Stadium. Tries from Gastineau and Goodnight made the score 10-0 with just two minutes on the clock, and things looked to be going to plan.
“Leading the team out of the tunnel and on to the pitch seemed surreal,” said Goodnight. “From where we started my freshman year to where we ended this, I would’ve never seen it coming.”
But while the offense was firing on all cylinders, Wabash struggled immensely on defense and gave up three tries before the end of the half.
In the second period, the damage was already done. Springfield added another try early in the second to extend their lead to 16 points. The Little Giants were struggling with injuries, and Villeda had to be escorted off the field with a shoulder injury. Wabash tried to fight back, and tries from Hunter Wray ’25 and Goodnight put Wabash within one score as the clock hit 14:00. The final score: Wabash 20, Springfield 26.
WABASH 20, SPRINGFIELD 26NCR 7s NATIONALS SEMIFINAL
“It wasn’t great to end on a low note, but I think we were all excited going through the whole process,” said Brooks. “I think we’re all content with the results and receiving the third place position. No one’s ecstatic with it, but I think everyone’s content.”
“I’m happy with the way we competed and all of our performances this year,” said DeFrenza. “Our goal this year was to make it to nationals, and we still came into these games competitive.”
Goodnight finished the tournament as Wabash’s leading scorer with seven tries over the three games. Gastineau and Villeda both scored two tries.
With the season now rounded out, Wabash graduates eight seniors, including five starters. Among them is Goodnight, who in fall 2022 won the Allegheny Rugby Union Player of the Year award.
“Words can’t describe how proud I am of this team,” said Goodnight. “We’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get to this point but didn’t let that stop us. I think the program in general truly emulates what it means to be a Little g]Giant. We’re not the biggest or best supported team on campus, but we’ve accomplished some giant feats over the past few years.”
Next year’s team will be much changed. But as Lucas Budler ’24 notes, Wabash isn’t having to build completely from the ground up.
“Next semester we’ll be looking to reestablish a new set of guys and a new program while using the knowledge and experience we’ve picked up over the last two years,” said Budler. “Starting as a nationally ranked team with experience on the biggest scale that we can possibly get to is going to help us go through another cycle of development to get better, faster and stronger.”
Regardless of who will be in the lineup next year, Wabash is now a nationally-ranked rugby squad for the first time in history. The 2022-23 team has truly set the bar, and winning third place at nationals has capped off what already was a resoundingly successful year.