Wayne, Neb. was the place for the first ever NSCRO Men's Division 3 Western Conference Championship event. The winner would earn a place in the National Championships set for Virginia Beach, Virginia on April 30-May 1.
The tournament was held at Wayne Rugby Park, one of the foremost rugby facilities in the country. Darrin Barner, head coach of the Wayne State College Men and Women's Rugby Clubs, set up four fields with a large club house, press box and elevated radio broadcast tower. The main field is full size and is a wondrous sight to behold.
The weather conditions were warm and dry but the wind was strong and affected play all weekend.
On Saturday, Wayne State College Wildcats (Great Plains Champion) took on The Toppers St. Edward's University (Texas Champion) to kick off the event in front of a home town crowd of about 600 people.
The setting was electric for the Wildcats and they responded with a try by flyhalf Dave Synnott within a minute of the match. However, that was it scoring-wise for Wayne State for a while as St. Ed's got a break 8 minutes later with a 70-meter intercept try by outside center Andrew Heller. Flyhalf Andor Benyi's conversion gave them a 7-5 lead. St. Ed's took advantage of another Wayne State mistake by recovering a loose ball from a Wildcat scrum and Andrew Heller took it 20 meters to score. The Benyi conversion made it 14-5.
A few minutes later inside center Zach Chodaniecky scored a fine try and with the Benyi conversion it was now 19-5 to SEU's favor. Late in the first half Wayne State's flanker Travis Erickson powered over on a penalty play. The half ended 19-10. The second half found Wayne State playing with the wind and they tried to use tactical kicking to gain ground. The match score remained unchanged until Wayne's scrumhalf Beau Boryca scored and with the Synnott conversion, the score was now 19-17. However, it was too little too late for the boys from Wayne and the match ended that way. SEU would move on to Sunday's Championship match.
In the second semifinal, undefeated Occidental College Blackshirts (So Cal Champion) faced the Lost Boys from North Dakota State University (Minnesota Champion).
NDSU played with the wind in the first half but was unable to take advantage. Occidental did very well in disrupting cleaned ball to the strong NDSU backs so when they got the ball they were under great pressure.
Playing into the wind Oxy could not mount a sustained attack. The first half ended scoreless. Three minutes into the second half, Oxy fullback Mitchell Grummon kicked a 38 meter penalty goal for the first score of the match. He repeated with 2 more penalty goals at the 23 minutes later and then with two minutes left to give Oxy a 9-0 lead.
On the last play of the match, Oxy wing Joey Maloney broke through for the only try of the match and with Grummon's conversion the match ended 16-0 in favor of Occidental. This set up the Oxy vs SEU final for Sunday.
On Sunday, the wind speed was still high but 180 degrees different from Saturday.
In the consolation match, Wayne State led by scrumhalf Beau Boryca's two tries took a 17-15 halftime lead against NDSU. In the second half, both teams freely substituted many players who had not played during the weekend. This turned out to be a Lost Boys advantage as they scored seven tries to pull away to a 56-17 win.
In the final, Occidental played the wind to their first half advantage against St. Edward's. two early penalty kicks by fullback Mitchell Grummon staked them to a 6-0 lead.
Then the first try: from an attacking five-meter scrum, wing Joey Maloney dotted down to extend the Oxy lead to 11-0. A late try made it 18-0 at the half. SEU had the wind at their backs for the second half but were unable to really make it work for them.
Flanker Mathew Ortiz did eventually give SEU their first points with a try. Andor Benyi's conversion made it 18-7. Benyi added two penalty goals to make it 18-13 midway through the half.
But Oxy's Maloney scored again with a fine try and with the conversion it was 25-13. Another penalty made it 28-13. With time windown down SEU center Andrew Heller scored on an impressive run and with the conversion the score was 28-20 and that was how the match ended.
Occidental now moves on to the NSCRO Championship on April 30-May 1.