The Christendom Crusaders stormed into the District of Columbia this past weekend, defeating some of the nation’s biggest teams to take 2nd Place in the 51st Cherry Blossom Rugby Tournament. It was an incredible achievement for the team, which had never moved past game four in the tournament previously.
The Crusaders entered the weekend coming off an impressive victory in the Frassati Rugby Invitational the previous weekend, beating both the Franciscan University of Steubenville Barons and the Ave Maria University Papists. They began Saturday with a match against Salisbury University, the champions of the 2015 Cherry Blossom Tournament who had proven to be a tough opponent in previous years. Not in 2017, though. The Crusaders bowled through them 20-5 in forty minutes, before shutting out American University 25-0 in their second game. With a 49-0 rout of West Chester University to end the day, the Crusaders earned a spot in the playoffs round of the tournament the next day — and a step closer to the ultimate prize.
Even with injuries, the Crusaders quickly established themselves against their conqueror last year, Towson University. While they defeated Christendom 17-8 last year, the Crusaders came in looking for redemption and achieved it, winning 29-5. Their most exciting match of the weekend — and one of the most exciting in Christendom sports history — would come next, against Georgetown University. A tough opponent, the Crusaders pushed them back on two incredible goal line stops to take the game to double overtime, tied 10-10. Team captain Joey Kuplack, still recovering from a concussion weeks earlier, shocked Georgetown with a winning kick to end the match, sealing Christendom’s victory 13-10.
With the win, Christendom earned a spot in the coveted semifinal round, with only Virginia Tech standing in the way of the finals. Not even the Hokies, who play D1-AA rugby for USA College Rugby, were a match for Christendom. After forty minutes, the Crusaders won 21-5 — their sixth match of the weekend, and the key to their first finals berth at the Cherry Blossom Tournament.
Onlookers and fans were shocked to find the small school from Virginia in the finals round, where they took on the Ohio State Buckeyes — a D1A Big Ten rugby team. While the Crusaders would ultimately fall to the Buckeyes 34-5, celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year, they still achieved the improbable in making it to the finals — an incredible milestone for the rugby team and for Christendom athletics as a whole.
The tournament marked the final weekend of the season for the Crusaders. The 15s team finished 2016-17 with a 12-2-1 record, earned through both regular season and tournament play. The 7s team went 4-1, winning the St. Mary’s College NSCRO 7s qualifier tournament to earn a berth in the National Small College Rugby 7s Championship in Philadelphia this coming June.