Christendom’s rugby team hit the nation’s capitol this past weekend for the 50th Annual Cherry Blossom Rugby Tournament, defeating some of the nation’s greatest teams to make it into the semifinals for the first time in team history. Outscoring their opponents 80 to 37 across four tough matches, the Crusaders raised their historic season record to 14-4 in the process.
The Crusaders, coming off their five-game sweep of the Four Leaf 15s Rugby Tournament in New York City last weekend, traveled onto familiar turf in Washington, D.C., after taking the top seed in the tournament last year.
With a faster, more confident team in tow, the Crusaders began the day against a much-larger James Madison University team, quickly jumping on the board thanks to a tough drive from team captain Pat Audino. After a tough forty minutes of back and forth play, the Crusaders went into overtime against the Blues of James Madison, with Audino putting the ball between the uprights in the final minute to win the match 23-20.
With one match down, the Crusaders moved into the next match of pool play against Salisbury University — 2015’s national champions, who routed the Crusaders in the Cherry Blossom Tournament the year before. Looking for redemption, the Crusaders jumped on the board within the final minutes of the first half, taking a 10-0 lead over their much-larger opponents. The strong conditioning and teamwork the Crusaders have been building all year paid off in grand fashion, as the Crusaders held Salisbury to zero points for the remainder of the match, defeating the demoralized Sharks 13-0.
The last game of the group stages came against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. With Audino in the hospital receiving stiches for a head wound that he had received in the previous game, Rob McKay stepped up as captain for the final game of the day. Exhausted from their previous two victories, the Crusaders did not slow down but kept up a relentless onslaught on UMBC. Joe McMahon shook the opposition in the opening minutes with a beautiful try to bring the score to 5-0, with Michael Duca putting on a burst of speed near the end to bring the score up to 22-0. The immense depth of the Christendom squad characterized the second half, with rookies having to fill the gaps made by injuries to some of Christendom’s top players. By the end of the game, the Crusaders won the match, and the day, with a final score of 31-0.
The sheer exhaustion, and multitude of injuries, from the three tough matches began to show in the semifinal match against Towson University the next day. The Crusaders put up a tough fight in their first Cherry Blossom semifinal match, ultimately falling 17-8, but leaving the field with confidence and pride after their resilient tournament play.
With a current record of 14-4, the Crusaders will next host the University of Richmond at home on Saturday, April 9, followed by the annual Shield Rugby Match against Franciscan University of Steubenville on April 16.