“We are advancing to Colorado with only 160 minutes of rugby standing between us and a national title,” rugby player Sean Pyn CM ’17 said. “Anytime you can say something like that, I think you have to be happy with the result.”
And the Claremont Lions should be happy. On April 8 and 9, the Lions won two games in one weekend to take them to the national championship, which will take place on April 29.
The Lions beat the University of Dallas Ground Hogs in the PacWest Regional Tournament semifinal 45-19 on Saturday to take them to Sunday’s final. Although Claremont got the win, they failed to capitalize on a number of scoring opportunities and had some sloppy moments.
“We faced some very talented teams this weekend, programs that play the game the right way and respect it,” Brendan MacDonald CM ’18 said. “I am proud of the way we played but I am definitely looking forward to our performance in the coming weeks.”
In Sunday’s final, the Lions trounced the California State University, Maritime Academy Keelhaulers 28-7. While the Keelhaulers certainly put up a fight, the Lions were able to remain calm under pressure.
“Without fail, when I could feel our mood going into the red, someone relieved the pressure with a big play,” Pyne said.
While the weekend was a success, it gave the Lions a clear idea of what they need to do to prep for the championship.
The rugby team is composed of primarily football players, many of whom are rivals during football season. The club, which brings together Stags and Sagehens alike, is led by coaches Jeremy Ognall, Ray Eagan, and forwards coach Scott Bracken, who played for the U.S. National Team.
“That [CMS/P-P] rivalry almost completely disappears on the rugby team and makes our football game in November that much more competitive and fun,” Pyne said. “Everyone comes out for different reasons, but everyone stays for the same thing, and that's the guys on the team.”
As the Lions prepare for Nationals, they will take note of how they prepared for last weekend’s games. The players attribute their success to the coaches, who focus on training the players to make smart decisions in the moment.
“We knew that we were going to be facing good rugby teams so we kind of had our work cut out for us,” MacDonald said. “What we really needed to focus on was our personal play.”
Last year, the Lions advanced to both the 15s and 7s rugby national championships, and won the 2010 Division II 15s National Championship. The Lions will hone in their focus for championship games on April 29 in Glendale, Colorado, when they play in the final four of the National Small College Rugby Organization 15s rugby tournament.