We are excited to report back on the recent 2023 USA Club Rugby XVs National Championships where our three advancing teams showed commendable performances.
Our Houston sHARCs, competing in the Women’s Division I, placed 4th in the tournament. The team put up a brave fight in the semifinal against the San Diego Surfers. While the Surfers were the first to score and maintained their lead throughout the match, our sHARCs showed resilience and a strong team spirit. Despite the Surfers leading 24-5 at halftime, the sHARCs fought back and managed to add one more try to their tally in the second half. However, the Surfers’ offensive speed attack was too strong, and they put up fifty more points while their defense conceded only one more try. The final score was 74-10, with the Surfers advancing to the National Championship showdown with NOVA where they eventually won to take the National title. t Despite the loss, the team showed great spirit and teamwork, which we are incredibly proud of.
Now, let’s move on to our Men’s teams. In the Men’s Division 1, the Austin Blacks gave us plenty to celebrate. The semifinal against Seattle was perhaps the most exciting and dramatic finish of the weekend. After accumulating a massive 38-8 lead at halftime, it seemed the match was out of reach for Seattle, who had conceded six tries to the Blacks in the first half alone. However, after extending their lead to 45-8 in the second half, the Blacks saw their lead evaporate to 45-43 with only five minutes left in the match. It was a nail-biting finish, but Kurt Morath gave the Blacks some breathing room with a penalty kick, leading to a 48-43 score. As the game seemed to be slipping away, wing Jordan Anderson broke a long run and found the try zone to tie the game at 48-48. With essentially no time left, it seemed the game was now lost for Austin who had to kick off to Seattle. However, Mende Carlton came up with the ball on the kick and returned it to the Seattle try zone to take the lead back on the final play of the match. Morath added the conversion as the Blacks pulled off an all-time stunner, 55-50, after Seattle had nearly pulled off the unthinkable, coming back from a thirty-seven point deficit.
The Men’s Division 3 Austin Blacks also had a successful run at the championships, with a thrilling finish in their semifinal against the Tucson Magpies. It was a back-and-forth battle for position, but the Blacks ultimately prevailed with a final score of 35-33. The Blacks were able to retake possession of the ball following the kickoff, ultimately scoring the match-tying try courtesy of Jack Merriman in the 78th minute. Evan Von zur Muehlen’s ensuing conversion gave Austin the final lead of the match, securing their advancement to the championship.
On Sunday, the championships saw some hard-fought battles. The Men’s D3 national title match between Austin Blacks and Colorado Springs Grizzlies was a tense affair, with a much lower points total than the previous day’s matches but still resulted in a narrow, single-digit margin. The Blacks were the first to tally points on the board as Alexander Lokken found the try zone around the 7-minute mark while Evan Von zur Muehlen added the ensuing conversion. An 18-7 lead all but sealed the victory with time running out quickly for the Grizzlies. Austin held on to win the men’s D3 national title 18-14, with Edrique Visser being named Most Valuable Player for his performance throughout the tournament.
The Men’s D1 National Championship was a sight to behold as the Austin Blacks faced off against Old Blue. The first score of the game came after a low kicked goal line drop from Austin was returned immediately by Old Blue. A penalty from Austin resulted in a lineout for Old Blue nearing the try zone, which ultimately led to the first points of the game. However, Austin quickly bounced back, and around the 11-minute mark, they elected to kick for three points following an Old Blue penalty. Connor Dellapina hit his first of four 3-point kicks on the day to cut the deficit to 7-3.
Nearing the 19-minute mark, with the advantage, Austin’s Sam Johnson pushed into the try zone covered with Old Blue defenders for the Blacks’ first try of the match and the 10-7 lead that would not be relinquished through the remainder of the contest. Two more penalty kicks and a Gabriel Farley try + conversion before the half led to a 23-7 lead for Austin after 40-minutes of play.
After a missed penalty kick by Austin around the 43-minute mark, the ensuing 22-meter drop kick by Old Blue was fielded by Amir Lancaster who returned it himself to the try zone to put the Blacks up by three scores. A hard run to the try zone by Old Blue’s Kyle Granby cut into the lead, but the score would be the final of the day for New York as Dellapina hit his fourth penalty kick of the game around the 62-minute mark. Finisher Black Rowerdink ran in the final try of the match and championships in the 79th minute of play to put the finishing touches on Austin’s run to the 2023 men’s D1 National Championship. Dellapina tallied eighteen points in the match to lead all scorers. Amir Lancaster was named tournament MVP for Austin.
In conclusion, this year’s USA Club Rugby XVs National Championships were filled with thrilling moments and exceptional performances from our teams. Congratulations to the Austin Blacks for their victories in the Men’s Division 1 and 3, and to the Houston sHARCs for their valiant efforts in the Women’s Division I. These achievements are a testament to our teams’ hard work, dedication, and passion for the sport. We are incredibly proud of all our players and look forward to what the future holds for TRU Rugby.