Claremont Lions win 2nd national rugby championship in 3 years

Connor Lehner CM ’20 makes a run during rugby practice Mar. 27. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

After falling short last season, the Claremont Colleges men’s rugby team is back on top.

Last weekend, the Lions claimed their second National Small Colleges Rugby Organization National Championship in the past three seasons, defeating Christendom Athletics 57-17.

Despite the 40-point win, the game was competitive and action-packed, Frankie Rayis CM ’20 and team captain Conner Pederson CM ’20 said. The Lions’ game-plan and fierce defense allowed them to shut out some of Christendom’s most talented offensive players.

Connor Lehner CM ’20 led the team’s defense, lining up against Christendom’s top playmaker all game; Lehner was one of eight CMS football players who, when forced to choose, quit the sport in favor of playing rugby this spring. His decision paid off for the Lions — Claremont’s defensive edge allowed for several turnover opportunities.

The game reached a turning point when two Lion players were out with yellow cards, leaving the team down 13 men to 15, according to Pederson.

During that time period, however, the Lions still managed to outscore Christendom 7-5. From that point onwards, the Lions pulled away.  

“I really believe we played our best game of the season as a team on Sunday,” Rayis said, “which means almost everyone had their best game of the season.”

Chance Sears CM ’21 was named MVP of the tournament.

“I attribute our team’s success to our desire to perform for each other,” Pederson said. “We had several key players and seniors out with injury, and so we made an extra effort to come home with a national championship for their sake.”

Throughout the season, the Lions have struggled to overcome the obstacles of injured players and a lack of team depth. Pederson tore his ACL in January, which put him out for the season. Despite these setbacks, Claremont’s team camaraderie kept them on the track to a title.

“To put it all together and win it for Conner and our other players we lost to injury during the season means everything to me,” Rayis said.  

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Rayis and Pederson said the Claremont coaching staff, which includes some of the best coaches they’ve ever worked with during their athletic careers, deserve much of the credit.

“Our three coaches are three of the best men I have ever come to know,” Pederson said. “They truly care for their players’ success on and off the field. This makes a player very willing to listen to their coach’s advice and genuinely try to improve and perform in those areas.”

The Lions’ all-star coaching staff, as well as 21 of the 23 players that traveled to New York for the championship game, will be returning next spring. Pederson is optimistic about the team’s potential and momentum going forward.

“I am completely confident in our ability to win a national championship next year. Anything less would be considered a failure from the team’s perspective,” he said.

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