A year after the women’s team achieved the same feat, the UConn men’s club rugby team are tournament champions. The Beast of the East tournament, played annually in Portsmouth, R.I., is the largest collegiate rugby tournament in the country. Held on the weekend of April 22, the Huskies defeated four-time reigning champions UMass Amherst to claim the title.
The opening day of the tournament hosted the group stage portion, with the Men’s Division 1 pool consisting of UConn, Boston College, Salisbury University, and UMass Amherst. The top two teams of the pool advance to the championship game.
UConn got off a slow start, struggling early against Salisbury in the tournament opener. They would eventually storm back to clinch a close yet crucial 17-14 win.
The second opponent of the day was against a far more formidable opponent in UMass Amherst, four-time defending champions and the favorites once again this year. After a difficult first half, UConn dug in and fought hard, but ultimately fell short, 7-21.
The day wrapped up with a must-win against Boston College, and UConn bounced back in a big way. The Huskies trounced the Eagles 20-0 to advance to Sunday’s championship game, a rematch against UMass.
Many teams would be intimidated by playing a team they had lost to the day before. The Huskies were anything but. After a film session Sunday morning, the team emerged with a fresh surge of confidence.
"I knew right after we left that film session that we would win the match,” UConn Head Coach Robert Merola said.
UMass Amherst was certainly not an unfamiliar opponent. In addition to Saturday’s loss, the Minutemen defeated the Huskies on multiple occasions in last year’s fall season, and have repeatedly put an end to UConn’s tournament hopes in the past. This year felt different.
“There’s a difference between confidence and overconfidence,” Captain Joe Philips said in reference to UMass Amherst’s recent run of dominance.
With tensions high, the team got its chance for revenge on Sunday with the title on the line. Led by great tackling and exceptional play from UConn’s forward pack, the Huskies’ defense stifled the Minutemen throughout the match. In one of the closest title games in tournament history, UConn knocked off the four-time champs by a score of 10-7 to claim the championship.
“This championship win meant a lot for the program,” said Elijah Tateishi after the final. “The grit and perseverance shown by the seniors and the starters during the final was inspiring and amazing to witness, and you could clearly see how hungry the team was for that win."
With the championship victory, the team now looks to the future.
“UConn Rugby has never been better set up for success than it is now,” former President Alex Bauer said.
Any students interested in joining the club rugby team in the fall are encouraged to contact President Nicholas Wehrle at email@example.com, or Head Coach Robert Merola at firstname.lastname@example.org, as the team looks to defend their title next year.