Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

June 2, 2014

Valdosta State rugby falls in semifinals

VALDOSTA — For the second time in as many weeks a Valdosta State athletic team has suffered a heartbreaking loss in search of a national championship; the Valdosta State Club Rugby team fell to New England College 36-7 in the National Small College Rugby 7s National Tournament semifinals.

Exactly a week after VSU's softball team dropped the national championship game against West Texas A&M 3-2, the rugby team appeared poised to find redemption for the Blazers matched up against New England College in the NSCRO semifinals after a dominant first day which left VSU one of only two undefeated teams.

Entering the game New England College had the look of a formidable foe, but not an unbeatable one.

"We, of course, watched all the games yesterday and we kind of knew who our opponents would be, but we weren't too worried about it," said Valdosta State Club Rugby team president Danny Lanning. "It didn't matter who they are. We're just going to play how we play, be ourselves, and have fun with it.

"We weren't too worried about what they were doing; we needed to make ourselves perfect in everything we do."

Playing in Pool B on Saturday, New England College went 2-1 in pool play, scoring 63 points in three games while allowing just 27 points to be scored against them (17 coming in a 17-12 loss to New Mexico Highlands), but compared to VSU's 3-0 record and 85-17 point differential, NEC hardly looked like an unstoppable juggernaut.

That is until the teams took the field.

Unforced errors plagued VSU throughout the match as New England College jumped out to an early lead on a long run from Anthony McQuestian to take a 7-0 lead out of the gates.

Jon-Reed Walker once again showed off his impressive speed by racing past defenders en route to tying the match at 7-7, but NEC's own speedster, Jay Muniz, responded with a long try of his own to reestablish the lead at 14-7.

Muniz showed he was one of the most dominant players in the tournament Saturday and he continued his impressive play Sunday. He scored again to push NEC's lead to 12 before dishing a great assist to a teammate for a back-breaking try before half, making the score 24-7.

On Saturday VSU was consistently credited with great tackling form and fundamentals, but those same nuances of the Blazers' game were absent in Sunday's semifinal.

"It definitely could have been nerves for some guys, but they're a good team," said Lanning. "They made us uncomfortable and we just didn't respond well enough.

"We weren't tackling very well so that's what got us into a lot of problems. We just weren't ourselves really. We just got unlucky today."

New England College went on to score two second-half tries resulting in a 36-7 final score and setting up a rematch of its only tournament loss against the undefeated New Mexico Highlands who earned a spot in the finals with a 31-0 victory against the University of Richmond in the first semifinal match of the day.

Despite the tough loss the Valdosta State Club Rugby team refused to hang their collective heads, instead choosing to focus on the support from the university and fans the tournament run has generated.

"Just in this tournament alone we've got families up here, we've got a few friends, even VSU's mens basketball coach (Mike Helfer) was in attendance for yesterday's games," said Lanning. "The support from the school has been great all year.

"By far, we had the best transportation; we rode up in this awesome stream-liner bus, a big charter bus, we looked great."

According to Lanning, the NSCRO 7s national tournament wasn't the end for the Valdosta State Club Rugby team, it is just the beginning.

"From here we're going to be expected to be in the playoffs and national tournaments for years to come," said Lanning. "We're going to have more alumni in the future and they're going to be behind us, the school is going to continue to be behind us, and hopefully we'll make bigger things happen."

Ranked No. 3 in the nation by NSCRO, the Valdosta State Club Rugby team will continue traveling and playing 7s tournaments throughout the summer.

"We'll be continuing to practice, fix our mistakes and make our game better on Tuesday's and Thursday's at 7:30 p.m."

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