Baylor Rugby Team Wins National Championship
by Lori Scott Fogleman and Allison Swickard, USA Rugby
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Baylor University's men's club rugby team defeated Arkansas State 29-16 on Saturday, May 5, to win the USA Rugby Collegiate Division II National Championship.
The team's trophy is on display in the McLane Student Life Center on the Baylor campus. This was the first year that a team from Baylor qualified for the tournament, finishing the season undefeated in Division II play.
"The entire trip was just amazing," said wing Kenny Johnson, a senior from Rogue River, Ore. "We won the state championship and then the Western championship, which was farther than any team from Texas had ever gone before."
But Baylor rugby's success didn't stop there as the team advanced to the National Elite Eight, where wins over Salisbury State (Md.) and Claremont College (Calif.) sent third-seeded Baylor to the national championship game against Arkansas State. The Indians, seeded fifth in the tournament, defeated Providence and top-seeded University of Nevada-Reno to reach the final.
A Fast Start
Baylor set the tone early as Van-Aarde Pretorius, the team's center and a junior from Wesselsbron, South Africa, scored a penalty kick one minute into the match. However, Arkansas State responded just nine minutes later when fullback Kekoa Cox made a penalty kick, tying the score at 3-3.
The game continued to seesaw as Baylor put a drop kick through the goal posts for another three points, again giving them the lead 6-3.
Baylor continued to add to its lead with scores from hooker Matt Lewis, a Fort Worth senior, and flanker Jeremy Kampen, a senior from Plano. But right before the half, Arkansas State's Yves Pichavant got a long break and scored a try, trimming Baylor's lead to 16-8 going into the half.
Ark. State Mounts Comeback
Looking to gain some ground in the second half, Arkansas State scored three points off a penalty kick. Fifteen minutes later, the Indians' Pichavant scored another try off a long break.
With the score tied at 16, Baylor began to pull away as Lewis scored at the 18-minute mark, moving the score to 21-16. Then as the final minutes ticked off the clock, Baylor scored a converted try, which gave the team the victory and the national championship.
"The team played a very disciplined and solid defensive game," said Baylor head coach Mike Kwedar. "This was a hard fought game, and the team played with a lot of heart."
Sweet Win for Seniors
Johnson said the national championship was particularly sweet for him and team captain Zach Oliphant of Tomball. The seniors have been on the rugby team since their freshman year and remember well that first campaign when Baylor lost every game.
"To go from 0-8 our freshman year to winning a national championship our senior year is an unbelievable feeling," Johnson said.
USA Rugby, founded in 1975, is the national governing body for rugby and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Rugby Board (IRB). USA Rugby began holding the Division II Championship in 1998.
More information on the Baylor Rugby Club can be found at the team's web site at www.baylor.edu/Rugby_Club. USA Rugby can be accessed at www.usarugby.org.