Author: Sant Kumar
The men’s rugby team stands at the cusp of championship glory as they prepare to travel to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Led by seniors Mitchell Grummon and Jonathan Ni, the team hopes to defeat Ithaca College in the semifinals this Saturday, April 30 and advance to the championship game.
On April 1, Occidental was among 16 teams that traveled to Nebraska to participate in the Division III West Regional Championships. The men completed the first round with ease, beating North Dakota State University 16-0. However, in the second round, the team faced a more difficult opponent in St. Edwards College.
According to Grummon, the second half was close and the team was struggling, despite leading 18-13. However, the momentum turned when Leon Siegel (junior) passed to Grummon, who passed to Joseph Maloney (sophomore). Maloney scored, giving Occidental a six point lead. The team held on to its early success and raced to a 28-20 finish.
The road to Virginia Beach has been relatively easy on the field for the team but arduous in terms of commitment, as the players have spent countless hours practicing. Since the tournament, the team has been focusing on Nationals and its opponent Ithaca College. According to Ni, the coaches watched film of the rival team and told the players that they have the potential to easily defeat them.
“Some of the forwards are lazy and poorly conditioned. A few of the forwards are really good, but each of the other players has flaws that we hope to exploit.”
“Their backs are not very rugby smart, making poor decisions during the game,” Ni said.
Grummon also believes that Occidental has a good chance of advancing to the championship game.
“We are in a great position to beat them because we are better team. We have better skill position players, especially in the back line. We are also smarter and have better tactics,” Grummon said.
One reason for the team’s confidence in its ability to win is Grummon, who will be awarded the Golden Boot. This award is handed out to the player who scored the most points during the season. Grummon outscored his closest competition by a large margin, with a total of 63 points.
Additionally, the men’s team boasts 10 of the top 20 points leaders in the conference. Other notable players include Benjamin Pigg (junior) and Javier Avalos (senior), who scored 15 points each, and Brandon Ahlo (senior), Zachary Hundley (sophomore) and Andrew Bariahtaris (sophomore), who have each scored 10 points. Barnaby Audsley (first-year) excels as the team’s punter. The team is also first in its conference, with a 7-0 record.
Though the team has many players to thank for its success, perhaps the most important are those who are not necessarily seen on the stat sheet. According to Ni, there are a few players who come to each practice, improve each week and force the starters to work hard while working hard themselves so that they do not lose their positions. Among these players are Zachary Ehmann (first-year), Stuart Lai (first-year) and David Weightman (first-year).
With such a well-rounded team, the players are gearing for Nationals. According to Matthew Nixon (junior), practices have been more focused on game play rather than skills in preparation for the upcoming competition.
“We want to make sure we focus on doing what we were not doing [in the] beginning of the season, but the main thing is we want to be in sync. We want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Nixon said.
One of the areas in which the team was struggling at the beginning of the season was team communication on the field. Grummon believes that the team members have a much better understanding of their individual roles. As a result, the players play as a cohesive unit.
According to Ni, Joel Haas (senior) has greatly improved over the course of the season. Although he was initially uncomfortable with his position as hooker, he now excels at it.
“We were weak in scrumming and Joel Haas, who plays hooker, which is a really critical role in the line-up in the scrum, was having a tough time. Now he has worked his butt off and is a great asset. We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Ni said.
Having improved its weaknesses, the team looks unstoppable as it heads to Virginia Beach this Friday. The team will be in an environment that is unlike anything the players have experienced before.
“There will be multiple cameras filming it. There will be people commenting on it and sideline interviews. It will be a whole different experience for most of us. The field is extremely nice and the sitting capacity is huge in that stadium. It will be streamed online as well,” Ni said.
The team plays Ithaca College on Saturday and will hopefully advance to the final round and bring back the National Championship trophy.
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