Rugby punches ticket for nationals

Courtesy+of+Dave+Redden+Photography
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Rugby punches ticket for nationals

Courtesy of Dave Redden Photography

Courtesy of Dave Redden Photography

Courtesy of Dave Redden Photography

Courtesy of Dave Redden Photography

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As classes wind down and students prepare for their finals, there is one group of athletes that is working toward something else entirely. Saint Louis University’s club rugby team is gearing upfor the 2015 7s National Championship, which will be held May 23-24, at the University of Denver, in Colorado.

Courtesy of Dave Redden Photography

“7s” is a variant of rugby with only seven players on a side, as opposed to the usual 15. Though the halves are much shorter in 7s – only seven minutes long, rather than 40 – the game takes place on the same sized pitch as 15s, allowing for a faster-paced game with more open-field play. Fundamental skills, such as passing, tackling and rucking are much more critical, as every mistake made will likely result in points – known as a try – for the other team.

Senior John “Cupcake” Stackpole, a captain on the team, viewed the upcoming tournament as an opportunity for the team to grow.

“I was excited, obviously, when we first qualified for nationals,” he said. “This will give us a chance to take our game to the next level and play some highly ranked teams we’ve never played before.”

This is the second national championship for which SLU has qualified this school year. In December 2014, the team hosted and played in the Round of 16 for nationals in 15s. This year marks the first time in school history that a squad has qualified for nationals in both 15s and 7s.

SLU punched its ticket to Denver after winning the Gateway Conference Tournament in Rolla, Missouri, back in February. Despite a blistering snowfall, SLU dominated the pitch all day, going undefeated and holding opponents scoreless in five games, including a decisive 10-0 victory over conference rival and reigning 7s national champion, Principia University.

Principia and SLU have had a storied history; in addition to winning nationals for 7s, Principia was the only team to defeat SLU in conference play for 15s last year.

The two teams will have a chance to square off again in Denver, as Principia will be attending nationals after winning a qualifying tournament in Iowa.

“As last year’s champs, Principia will be a good opponent, but we have a good squad and some talented players, so I expect we’ll go far,” said Stackpole. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” he added.

In addition to SLU and Principia, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale has also earned a spot, meaning that of the 10 teams currently scheduled to play at the tournament, three are from the Gateway Conference.

Nationals will take place approximately two weeks after finals week. The entire team will remain in St. Louis for training until then, practicing five days a week. Underclassmen who live on campus will be staying with off-campus teammates.

Since the university has only provided support for a single annual trip to nationals, the team will be travelling on its own dime this semester. It will take its bus, which was purchased with team funds, on the 12-hour trip to Denver.

This is actually the team’s second trip to Colorado this year, after taking part in a scrimmage against Colorado College last semester.

Despite his team’s historic success, Stackpole expressed a desire for future squads to continue to raise the standard for SLU rugby.

“For seniors, the hope is always that the class after you will do even better than you did,” he said. “I’d like to see us reach the Final Four next year. The ultimate goal, of course, is winning a national championship. That’s always what we strive for.”

With nationals less than a month away, SLU Rugby may have the chance to bring home the title sooner than it thinks.