Christendom College wins first rugby national championship

The Christendom College Crusaders rugby team won the school’s first-ever national championship last Sunday in Philadelphia with a thrilling 24-19 overtime win over St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The Crusaders, in front of a crowd of 15,000 attendees, rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit to knock off one of the pre-tournament favorites.

“This is the first national championship for Christendom College, so this means a lot,” said Crusaders coach Theo Smith. “As a program we have so many supporters, whether it’s the current students or alumni, faculty and staff, or just people in the area who want to watch and support a rugby team.”

Christendom, a small Catholic-based school in Warren County, is the smallest school in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) that features schools such as Duke University and the College of William and Mary.

The Crusaders qualified for the national championship tournament by winning a NSCRO 7s qualifier tournament back in March.

Despite coming into the tournament as an unknown and underdogs, Smith said the team had high expectations.

“We were confident,” Smith said. “We have had a great year and felt with this group of guys, and having them all play together the last three years, that we could realistically win the national championship.”

Christendom was play- ing in the national tournament for the first time since the program was created in 2012.

“It’s great to be able to grow as a program to the point where we can not only compete for a title, but win a title,” Smith said. “To bring it home for all those supporters means the world to this team.”

After falling behind St. Mary’s 14-0 at the half, the Crusaders came out after the intermission and scored on their first two tries to cut the margin to two points at 14-12.

St. Mary’s responded by charging down the field to extend the lead to 19-12 with less than two minutes left in the game.

With no time left on the clock, Christendom marched downfield on their final try and scored when Derek Casey fought his way over the line.

Team captain Joey Kuplack made a the conversion kick to send the game into overtime.

St. Mary’s won the coin flip, but decided to kick off to the Crusaders.

Michael McMahon made St. Mary’s pay, making a breakaway downfield.

Nearing the in-goal area, McMahon was dragged down, but brother Joe McMahon grabbed the ball and dove in for the winning points.

Joe McMahon was also named the tournament Most Valuable Player.

“Joe is one of the most humblest and hardest working men on the team,” Smith said. “He is always asking how he can be a better teammate and leader. He is always the last to leave practice, usually staying after to run extra sprints on his own. His play reflects that attitude towards greatness, always looking to not only improve himself, but also those around him.”

In the tournament pool play last Saturday, Christendom began play with wins over Colby College and Steven's Point of Wisconsin.

Two-time defending national champ New Mexico Highland's University handed the Crusaders their first defeat of the tournament, but Christendom still managed to qualify for Sunday’s semifinals as the No. 1 seed in the pool in a tiebreaker.

Christendom opened play on championship Sun- day with a 24-5 win over Babson College, while St. Mary’s knocked off New Mexico.

Smith said the success of the team was due to it’s dedication throughout the season.

“This team dedicated themselves to being better day in and day out,” Smith said. “They spent an extra one or two hours a week doing their own game film study. They held each other and the coaches account- able to being better men on and off the pitch. As coaches, we don’t know if there is a better group of men that we could have worked with.”

The Crusaders finished with a 20-4-1 record and coach Smith was assisted by coach James Conrad.

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