Men’s rugby advances to final eight, qualifies for first National Tournament in club history

Any disappointment from the fall season quickly vanished this weekend, when the Colby Men’s Rugby (CRFC) won the Plattsburg Food Bank Seven’s tournament, which secured the team a spot in the national tournament in June. The national tournament will be hosted in Philadelphia on June 4, where CRFC will be one of eight teams to compete for the championship.

For those who are unfamiliar with the game, there are technically three types of rugby, though Colby’s teams only plays two of the three. In the fall, the men and women both play 15s, where 15 players are on the field at the same time. In the spring, both teams play sevens, which, as the name indicates, means that seven players are on the field at a time. The main difference between the two is visible in the pace of the game, with sevens requiring better agility, quickness, and stamina.

The team traveled to Plattsburgh State University last weekend, testing their new skills as a sevens team and playing a version of the game completely foreign to many of the younger players. They played five matches throughout the tournament, taking on schools from around New England and New York. In their first match against the University of Rochester, the team won handily, walking away with a 33-12 victory. Both experienced and new players contributed to the scoring, with tries from Co-Captain Quill Yates ’17, Eric Alimanestianu ’19, Nathan Huebschmann ’19, and rookie Aidan Cyr ’20, who scored his first try his first time on the field. Cyr remained a constant force throughout the tournament, scoring a hat trick against Hobart College. Co-Captain Jack Sears ’17 praised the freshman for his level headedness and general strength on the field. Colby had no issue with Hobart either, edging the New York school out in a 42-0 victory.

“We had four rookies on the team and they looked amazing, the team’s future looks incredibly bright,” Sears said. “We were honestly led by our sophomore and freshmen classes performance. Aidan Cyr played for the first time ever and was absolutely unbelievable for never having played before.”

In their final game of pool play, Colby beat SUNY Plattsburgh in what Sears described as a much closer game, but still a convincing victory. As they moved on to the semi-final, the Mules faced their Maine rivals: University of Maine Orono. Sears gave a respectful analysis of their opponents, who CRFC plays every fall and frequently at their other spring tournaments. “They are a great 15s team and always give us a good run in the fall, but they were clearly tired,” he said. Again, in this game younger players took the lead, scoring many of the tries and pushing Colby into the final against Babson College.

In the final, the team faced their first real challenge, narrowly beating the Massachusetts school 22-20. Huebschmann came up with the important points, scoring a hat trick and helping lead Colby to a tournament victory. Yates said Huebschmann was key for the team and for his strength. “He pushed us to a win that we couldn’t have had without him,” Yates said.

Conversions­—the two-point kick a team is awarded after a try—were essential to CRFC’s win as well.  Sears converted Colby’s four tries and was awarded MVP of the tournament in part because of that. Babson scored in the final seconds but  failed to convert on their kick, ending the game at 20-20. The Mules were ready to go to overtime, but the referee noticed a mistake on the scoreboard: the Mules should have had two more points because they had made a conversion on their last score, while Babson had not. Amid confusion on the sideline and screaming Babson coaches was how the team found out they were headed to their first sevens nationals tournament in club history.

The players certainly weren’t alone in their preparation for the tournament. Sears praised his coaches and the training staff for their hard work, especially athletic trainer Shannon Steelman. “X-factor of the tournament was our trainer Shannon who kept us in top shape and made sure we got a good cool down after each game,” Sears said.

Both captains walked away from the tournament with hope for the team and the rugby program’s future, praising the talents of both young and experienced players alike. Both Sears and Yates noted the importance of Colby being represented on a national scale and bringing home a trophy and recognition to the school, something every member of the team is striving to do. Colby hopes to build upon this tournament as they travel to the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) National Championship on June 4 at the Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia. Tickets for the tournament will be on sale soon. Contact Will Levesque (wmlevesq@colby.edu) for more information.