This story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 Edition of Instaurare 

The story of the Christendom Crusaders’ 2018–19 rugby season is a story of numbers: the first No. 1 ranking in school history, for any sport; two National Championship berths; six all-stars. Behind these numbers is another story as well—one of perseverance, faith, and of the brotherhood that turned 36 men into one of the most dominant sports teams in school history.

When the season started last fall, there were already high expectations for the Crusader rugby team. After an overtime National Championship win in 2017, the first 15s National Championship run, and the second consecutive 7s National Championship appearance in 2018, the Crusaders were automatically expected to perform at least as well as those two teams. The 2018–19 team featured continuity from past years on day one of the new season but also had many fresh faces—several of whom had never played a game of rugby in their lives. After two consecutive years of National Championship runs, the question arose: could this team continue that streak?

A 62-0 rout of the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the first conference game of the season provided the answer. What came next? A 24-0 defeat of Virginia Commonwealth University, a 53-38 win over Washington & Lee, a 71-5 win over Navy—the Crusaders rolled over their regular season competition again and again, as the new players quickly meshed with the old. With each win, hopes began to rise higher for a team with already lofty expectations.

The 11 senior members of the team, along with junior Tommy Audino and others, provided the foundation and leadership needed to quickly bring the younger up to speed, resulting in this incredible run — a run that was only just getting started. With the regular season behind them, tournament play began. The Crusaders blew through Duke University and James Madison University in the Cardinals Conference Championship, earning them a spot at redemption in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) 15s National Championship playoffs after an early exit the year before. 

Their next feat was their greatest yet of an already impressive season. Playing in their first NSCRO 15s Regional Championship, the Crusaders defeated Loyola Maryland 23-7 in the first round, earning them a trip to the final against a fellow Catholic school, the Catholic University of America. In mud-drenched Raleigh, North Carolina, the Crusaders fought hard, holding off the Cardinals at every turn, eventually winning the game 43-24. The win meant the Mid-Atlantic South Region Championship trophy, but also another first for the team: a No. 1 in the nation ranking from NSCRO, further testament to this rugby team being one of the best ever fielded by Christendom.

The win meant a pause to 15s play until late April, when the National Championship would be held. In the meantime, the Crusaders turned to another goal: earning a third straight trip to the NSCRO 7s National Championship in Philadelphia. At the end of March, the Crusaders traveled to Washington & Lee University for the W & L Generals 7s Qualifier tournament and made what can only be described as a bold statement to the rest of the NSCRO rugby world. In five games, the Crusaders played UNC Greensboro, Duke University, Roanoke College, Duke again, and Susquehanna College — all dominant teams. The Crusaders outscored every opponent, posting a cumulative 154-19 in those five games, with a significant challenge coming in the final against Susquehanna, which ended in a 19-14 victory for Christendom. Another year, another trip to the 7s National Championship. 

At the end of April, the Crusaders began their next battle, this time in Albany, New York, with the prize of the first 15s National Championship in school history in sight. Junior Tommy Audino, who was studying in Rome for the semester, was so eager to help his team win that he flew back to the States for the game! While the Crusaders rolled through No. 2 ranked Endicott College 60-17, they came up short against the Claremont Colleges. This opponent, 2018’s 15s National Champions, proved to be the first true challenge for Christendom in 2018–19. Despite a defeat, the season still marked the best performance for a Christendom 15s team in program history—something to be celebrated and remembered for the rest of college history. Even better, there was still more to be written about the 2018–19 season. 

Following commencement, the newly graduated seniors gathered together one last time with the rest of the team for the NSCRO 7s National Championship in Philadelphia on June 1–2—Christendom’s third straight appearance. The competition proved to be a chance for the seniors to look back with gratitude as well. When Christendom won the National Championship in 2017 in its first-ever appearance, the seniors were only sophomores, contributing to the crowning achievement of the college’s rugby program. Now, they were playing in their final games ever as Crusaders, part of a program considered to be one of the finest in the country. 

Each left it all on the field in the games, beginning with a defeat of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in pool play. They fought the University of Denver to a tie and finally fell to the Claremont Colleges—their archrival—in the final game yet again. Thanks to points differential, Christendom still made it into the semifinal round—their third straight trip to the semis, making them the only semifinalist team in contention to do so three straight years.

With the sun blazing on Sunday morning, Christendom faced off against New Mexico Highlands University, the #1 seed from their pool. Christendom gave their all, but the speed of the Vatos proved to be too much for the Crusaders. They fell 29-0, with New Mexico going on to win the National Championship later that afternoon.

Christendom finished their second National Championship of the 2018–19 season with 4th place. Despite this end result, the Crusaders still had much to be proud of from their season. 2018–19 truly was a story of numbers: a No. 1 ranking, two National Championship berths, a 15s Cardinals Conference Championship, and a 15s Region 2 Championship. In addition, the team fielded six NSCRO All-Stars, three first team All-Conference players, three second team All-Conference players, seven 15s All-Championship players, and one 15s All-Star Championship players in 2018–19. All impressive numbers, but truly only half of the story.

The Crusaders came together in a special way in 2018-19, with the graduating seniors passing on all they knew to the next generation, while playing some of the best rugby of their collegiate careers at the same time. With the end of this season, the Crusaders said goodbye to players who had been with the team since the first National Championship win, along with others. A chapter of the Crusader legacy truly has ended, but the next is ready to begin. 

When next season begins, new players will don the blue-and-white uniforms of the Crusaders for the first time, with new seniors set to provide leadership and an example to follow. No matter who wears the Crusader colors in 2019–20, the legacy of the 2018–19 team—and all the teams before it—will carry on, with this brotherhood of athletes continuing to give their all “for the love of the game and the glory of God.” 

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