Wheeling Jesuit made its debut as a varsity rugby program this weekend, finishing 2-3 and taking 4th in the Mid-America Sevens Qualifying Tournament.
WJU’s inaugural day of rugby was highlighted by some strong individual performances and a couple of narrow losses. Considering WJU fielded a team entirely comprised of freshman, Head Coach Eric Jerpe came away from the tournament with a positive outlook on the future.
“We are really pleased with our first hit-out as a program,” said Jerpe. “ Our young guys showed a lot of talent and played with a lot of heart. We set the bar for our program high today, and need to keep raising the standard.”
The Cardinals knew coming into the tournament it would be difficult to on top of their pool, facing defending D1-AA National Champions Davenport University in their opening match.
Davenport and WJU traded blows throughout the game, and found themselves tied 17-17 with seconds left. Davenport scooped up a loose ball from a scrum and found a gap though to go up 22-17 just as time expired.
Next up for Wheeling Jesuit were the Bearcats of Cincinnati. WJU would come out firing, putting 17 points on the board in the first half. The Cardinals then went to their bench in an effort to keep their starters fresh. The less experienced subs gave up three tries to the Bearcats in the second half before Dante Walters sealed the game for WJU with a strong run from midfield. The win put WJU in second place in their pool, and into the Quarterfinals to face Pool A’s #1 seed, Miami of Ohio.
The Cardinals would hit their stride against Miami. From the get-go, Peter Malcolm and Jessie Jensen dominated the restarts to give Wheeling Jesuit go-forward ball and put them in an attacking position. The Cards jumped out to a 22-0 lead in the first half, and would not look back. WJU went on to thrash the highly touted Miami squad 40-0 to advance to the Cup semifinal against home team Bowling Green.
The match against the Falcons would come down to a battle of wills with the home team squeaking out a five-point lead at the half. WJU came back to take a short lead early in the second, but BG struck back and held on 12-7.
After four physical matches, WJU was clearly fatigued as they took on Notre Dame for 3rd place. The Cardinals took a 7-5 lead in the second half, but Notre Dame would prove too strong for WJU, scoring late to win 12-7.
All in all a solid debut, with WJU losing three games by five points each, and winning another close one as well as one blowout.
WJU Roster for MAC Sevens