GLENDALE, Colo. – "It's hard to believe that 11 years ago a group of guys asked if they could start a rugby team," reminisced Chris Ledyard, director of Athletics at Franciscan University. "And here we are today at the national championship." It was history in the making Saturday afternoon as Baron Rugby faced Salve Regina University in the National Small College Rugby Organization national championship semifinal round.
The Barons went on to lose 29-20 to the Salve Regina Seahawks.
The Seahawks are veterans to the NSCRO national championship. This is the third time in four years the team has made it to the championship.
"Salve Regina's coach said that it was the best game they've ever played," said assistant coach Niall O'Mahony. "This is the perfect time to do that."
The match started off well for Franciscan with junior Tim Knob scoring the first try on the day at the 12-minute mark. The pace stayed quick, but the Seahawks stepped up to control the majority of the match's pace.
"We were a bit shocked," said head coach Mark Hanrahan. "Watching some of Salve Regina's game film seemed to indicate that we were at an advantage."
Michael Brasie and Matthew Conahan earned Franciscan's two other tries scored during the match. Tom Allen tallied one conversion and a penalty kick for the Barons, rounding out the score to the final 20 points.
"Our two captains, Brasie and David Cup, really played well today," noted Hanrahan. "In the final minutes of the match Cup was still hitting Salve and driving them all over the field. And Brasie did a good job controlling the pace and making the right calls."
The Seahawks played what Hanrahan called "smart rugby." "They adjusted well in the heat of the battle," he said.
"Salve's top two players, No. 8 and No. 13, did stop and tell me how tough Franciscan was out on the pitch," said Hanrahan. "They said we were the toughest team they've ever faced, but also the nicest. That's good to hear, especially from their top players. I'd rather lose but know we've played well, than have won by being poor examples of men.
"We (the Barons) talked in the locker room after the game," he continued, "and noted that losing is a life lesson. We live by the attitude of getting back up when you get knocked down, which leaves us with two choices tomorrow: we can either fall back down, or come out strong, play hard, and go home with a third place win."
Making a showing at a national championship is groundbreaking for Franciscan University's team sports. Rugby is the oldest varsity sport for the University, having started back in 2001. It was nearly a 20-year hiatus from athletics for Franciscan when the program started.
Baron Rugby's strong fan base stretches back to the very founders of the program. Well over 200 current students, alumni, former players, family, and friends came out to Infinity Park to support the Barons.
Cal Maritime Academy defeated the University of North Florida in the second semifinal round, 31-26. Franciscan will face UNF tomorrow at 11 a.m. (MT)/1 p.m. (EST). The match will be streamed live online here, and will be aired in the FUS Finnegan Fieldhouse for students and the Steubenville community.