2023 USA Club Rugby XVs National Championships Recap

Wed, Jun 7, 2023, 9:09 PM
by Wendy Young
National Championships – Day One

The 1pm CST kick off put two-time defending champion NOVA (Northern Virginia) against Metropolis Valkyries in the first match of the D1 women’s semifinals and Chicago Griffins vs New York Old Blue in the men’s D1 semifinal opener.   

Women’s D1 semifinal full-time score: NOVA 37 – Metropolis Valkyries 15   

NOVA struck first against Valkyries putting points on the board for a 7-0 lead courtesy of a Stephanie Barros try around the 15-minute mark. Metropolis answered with a try from Stephanie Alliev and a 7-5 deficit nearing midway through the first half, showing hard fought resolve against the powerful Piranhas. However, two more tries and one conversion for NOVA before the half gave them a 19-5 lead after forty minutes. Valkyries scored first in the second half when Shaena Sparrow found the try zone to cut into the deficit, making it 19-10. In the second half, NOVA would score thirteen straight points by way of two tries and a penalty kick to increase their lead to 37-10. A 66th minute try by Valkyries’ Christina Licari cut the deficit to 37- 15 but NOVA would hold on to win and advance to the final for an opportunity to win their third consecutive national title.   

Men’s D1 semifinal full-time score: Old Blue (forfeit) – Chicago Griffins   

On the men’s side, it was Old Blue who jumped out to the early 5-0 lead with a try courtesy of Julian Caceres. However, Griffins responded with two tries and conversions for a 14- 5 lead thereafter. A high scoring affair that had four lead changes in the first half gave Chicago a 26-22 lead after forty minutes. In the second half, Chicago would hold onto the lead despite a comeback attempt by Old Blue that brought the score to within nine points with around five minutes remaining in the match. Two tries and conversions by Griffins with little time remaining sealed the 50-27 win for Chicago. The Griffins’ Ned Hodson was the leading scorer in the contest while Caceres led Old Blue with seventeen points (two tries, two conversions, one penalty). Chris Vakasisikakala and Caesar Osorio also scored tries for Old Blue.   

Due to the use of an ineligible player in the match, Griffins were forced to forfeit the victory. 

USA Club Rugby issued the following statement on the situation on Saturday, June 3: 

During Friday’s men’s Division 1 semifinal, the Chicago Griffins knowingly fielded an ineligible player against Old Blue New York. An appeal was submitted and reviewed; however, the individual was still deemed ineligible for the semifinal match, therefore the match results in a forfeit and Old Blue New York will advance to the men’s Division 1 final on Sunday.   

While an unfortunate circumstance, the USA Senior Club Council recognizes the importance for eligibility for equitable competition and looks forward to completing the 2023 National Championships in St. Charles.   

In the 3pm slate, San Diego Surfers met Houston sHARCs in the women’s D1 semifinal while Austin Blacks defeated Seattle in an exciting finish in the men’s D1 semifinal.   

Women’s D1 semifinal full-time score: San Diego Surfers 74 – Houston sHARCs 10   

Surfers scored the first points of the match against sHARCs and held that lead through the contest. After leading 24-5 at halftime, San Diego’s offensive speed attack put up fifty more points while their defense conceded only one more try. San Diego’s impressive 74-10 victory earned the Surfers advancement to Sunday’s National Championship showdown with NOVA. sHARCs scored twelve tries and nearly a dozen different players accumulated points for San Diego against Houston via tries and conversions.   

Men’s D1 semifinal full-time score: Austin Blacks 55 – Seattle 50   

The Austin Blacks vs. Seattle men’s D1 semifinal provided perhaps the most exciting and dramatic finish to a game of the weekend. After Austin accumulated a massive 38-8 lead at halftime, the match seemed already out of reach for Seattle, who conceded six tries to the Blacks in the first half alone. After Austin scored to start the second half and extend their lead to 45-8, the Orcas meticulously picked away at the lead, thereafter, finding ways to the try zone and hitting crucial conversion kicks courtesy of flyhalf Jonathan Reid. The Blacks’ lead evaporated to 45-43 with only five minutes left in the match before Kurt Morath gave them some breathing room with a penalty kick and a 48-43 lead. Needing a try just to tie the game and have a chance to go into extra time, wing Jordan Anderson broke a long run and found the try zone to tie, 48-48, while Reid’s conversion gave Seattle the 50-48 lead, their first of the afternoon. 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.   

All Friday, June 2 Results   

1pm – women’s D1 semifinal: NOVA 39 – Metropolis Valkyries 15 

1pm – men’s D1 semifinal: Old Blue forfeit – Chicago Griffins   

3pm – women’s D1 semifinal: San Diego Surfers 74 – Houston sHARCs 10 

3pm – men’s D1 semifinal: Austin Blacks 55 – Seattle 50 

National Championships – Day Two   

Day two of the 2023 USA Club Rugby National Championships kicked off on Saturday, June 3 at the St. Charles Soccer Complex in St. Charles, Missouri with national semifinal matches for men’s divisions 2 and 3 and women’s division 2 clubs.   

The 11am CST kickoff slate featured returning men’s D2 national runner-up Denver Barbarians against Boston Irish Wolfhounds and North Bay facing off with Colorado Springs Grizzlies in the men’s D3 semifinal.   

Men’s D2 semifinal full-time score: Denver Barbarians 15 – Boston Irish Wolfhounds 12   

After twenty minutes of play, Denver led Boston only 3-0 by way of a penalty try by Liam Wynne in a hard-hitting contest where both teams were looking to gain an advantage in field position. Within five minutes of halftime, Eoghan O’Reilly found the try zone for Boston while Louis Morel tacked on the conversion to give the Irish Wolfhounds a 7-3 lead after forty minutes. In the second half, a long Barbarians kick tumbled into the try zone and was touched down by Eric Sykes who raced his Boston opponents to the ball while Morel added the conversion for a 10-7 Denver lead. Another try, this time by Stephen Jacobs, extended the Denver lead 15-7 with around ten minutes remaining in the contest. A late score by Boston’s Jake Kaplan shortly after a Barbarians penalty with around seven minutes remaining and a missed penalty kick attempt by Denver gave the Irish Wolfhounds some hope, but a strong defensive performance by the Barbarians kept Boston out of and away from the try zone as they held on to win 15-12 and advance back to the men’s D2 National Championship match.   

Men’s D3 semifinal full-time score: Colorado Springs Grizzlies 35 – North Bay 34   

Contrary to the other match going on at the same time, Colorado Springs and North Bay turned into a high scoring affair with several lead changes throughout the contest. Grizzlies took the first lead of the match, but North Bay responded to take the lead, 7-5, thereafter. Another try by ‘Springs was answered by North Bay to produce the fourth lead change of the match after only the fourth try of the match. A 20-17 halftime lead by Grizzlies was overtaken by a North Bay try and a 25-20 lead. With almost no time remaining in the match, North Bay clung to a 34-30 lead nearing their own defensive try zone until Colorado Springs’ Matthew Woerner scored what would be the match winning try with nearly no time remaining. Ultimately, Grizzlies would hold on to win 35-34 to advance to the men’s D3 National Championship final. Colorado Springs scored all their points by way of seven tries by seven different players and no conversions or penalty kicks. North Bay’s Matt Bodt led all scorers with two tries while Patrick Bish kicked three conversions and one penalty for North Bay.   

The 1pm matches pitted returning national runner-up Knoxville Minx against the Albuquerque Atomic Sisters in the women’s D2 semifinal while the Austin Blacks met the Tucson Magpies in the second men’s D3 semifinal.   

Women’s D2 semifinal full-time score: Knoxville Minx 64 – Atomic Sisters 14   

Knoxville struck first against the ‘Sisters only three minutes into the contest by way of a Laura Morse try. From then on, it was all Knoxville as Morse and the Minx accumulated a 43-0 halftime lead on the way to a 64-14 semifinal victory, advancing back to the D2 National Championship for the second consecutive year. Morse led all scorers with forty-four points by way of five tries, eight conversions, and one penalty kick. USA Eagle Jennine Detiveaux added three tries in the winning effort as well. Regina Durkin was responsible for the second of nine tries in the match for Knoxville.   

Men’s D3 semifinal full-time score: Austin Blacks 35 – Tucson Magpies 33   

Like Friday’s men’s D1 Austin Blacks semifinal match, the Saturday D3 Blacks match ended in dramatic fashion. A back-and-forth battle for position had the Tucson Magpies leading the Blacks 14-10 before David Pena’s try gave Austin the lead while Evan Von zur Muehlen added the conversion. Late in the second half, Tucson had retaken the lead, 26-25 with around twenty remaining in the contest. A crucial penalty kick by Austin retook the lead for the Blacks heading into the final minutes of the match. However, the Magpies secured a try and critical conversion points for a five-point lead with only minutes remaining, now 33-28. 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. Von zur Muehlen’s ensuing conversion gave Austin the final lead of the match as the Blacks would hold on to win 35-33 and advance to Sunday’s championship, putting both Austin Blacks Rugby sides in their respective national finals. Merriman led the Blacks with two tries while Von zur Muehlen tied Merriman’s points total with two conversions and two penalty kicks.   

Finally, Saturday’s 3pm field featured all new teams in their respective semifinal as Severn River took on Milwaukee Scylla for a spot in the women’s D2 championship and Miami Tridents met Boise United in the second men’s D2 match of the day.   

Women’s D2 semifinal full-time score: Severn River 39 – Milwaukee Scylla 24   

The Honey Badgers fell by only three points to the eventual D2 National Champion in the 2022 Atlantic Regional final, so a hungry and prepared Severn team hit the ground running on Saturday jumping out to a 22-0 lead scoring four tries by four different players and one conversion in the first twenty-four minutes of the match. A tough Scylla team responded with two tries before halftime to cut the deficit to 22-10 after forty minutes. In the second half, after nearly twenty minutes of no scoring, Taylor McLean broke the game back open with a try for Severn at the 59-minute mark. Late tries by Kaitlyn Marshall and Madison Steele helped to extend the Severn lead while Scylla found the try zone twice in the last thirteen minutes. All seven Severn tries were scored by different players as the Badgers held on to a 39-24 semifinal victory to advance to the D2 National Championship final.   

Men’s D2 semifinal full-time score: Boise United 36 – Miami Tridents 21   

Pacific Regional Champion Boise used a steady offensive attack and disciplined defense to defeat Gulf Coast representative Miami in the Saturday afternoon men’s D2 semifinal. Keegan Echevarria found the try zone within the first five minutes of the match to give Boise the first lead. However, Miami responded with two tries and conversions to around the 30- minute mark to hold a 14-12 lead during a break in which an injury was attended to on the field and then up to halftime. Only minutes after the resumption of play, Boise’s Senituli Taufoou helped United to retake the lead that they would not again concede. Boise would score three more tries and two conversions while only giving up one more score to Miami through the remainder of the match as they would hold on to win 36-21 and advance to the National Championship final.   

All Saturday, June 3 Results   

11am – men’s D2 semifinal: Denver Barbarians 15 – Boston Irish Wolfhounds 12 

11am – men’s D3 semifinal: Colorado Springs Grizzlies 35 – North Bay 34 

1pm – women’s D2 semifinal: Knoxville Minx 64 – Atomic Sisters 14 

1pm – men’s D3 semifinal: Austin Blacks 35 – Tucson Magpies 33   

3pm – women’s D2 semifinal: Severn River 39 – Milwaukee Scylla 24 

3pm – men’s D2 semifinal: Boise United 36 – Miami Tridents 21

National Championship Finals

The final day of the three-day 2023 USA Club Rugby National Championships on Sunday, June 4 crowned the five National Champion teams in St. Charles. After two full days of stifling heat and battering sunlight, Sunday’s weather provided cooler temperatures and sporadic cloud shade but also the forecasted potential of an afternoon thunderstorm that threatened to interrupt play.   

The early slate of championships at 11am settled the men’s D3 national title between Austin Blacks and Colorado Springs and the women’s D2 national title between Severn River and Knoxville.   

Men’s D3 National Championship full-time score: Austin Blacks 18 – Colorado Springs Grizzlies 14   

Unlike the previous day’s affairs for both teams, the championship saw a much lower points total 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. A field position battle consumed most of the next twenty minutes before Von zur Muehlen found the try zone to put the Blacks up 12-0. A sorely needed try by Colorado Springs’ Shane Palmer just before halftime breathed new hope into the Grizzlies as they trailed 12-7 after forty minutes. The second half of the men’s D3 National Championship provided even less points than the first as the teams were locked in a defensive battle with possession changing constantly. Von zur Muehlen scored the first points of the second half with less than ten minutes to play in the contest, hitting the first of two critical penalty kicks in the 71st minute, the other coming in the 76th. An 18-7 lead all but sealed the victory with time running out quickly for the Grizzlies. Austyn Spoon found the try zone for ‘Springs in the 78th minute to cut into the Blacks’ lead, but Austin would hold on to win the men’s D3 national title 18-14 in the first of two opportunities for the club on the day to take home championship honors. Edrique Visser was named Most Valuable Player for the Blacks for his tournament performance. 

Women’s D2 National Championship full-time score: Knoxville Minx 33 – Severn River 22   

A year after falling in the same National Championship final, Knoxville left St. Charles as the 2023 women’s D2 national champion. On Sunday, a very tough Honey Badger squad came prepared for the returning runner-up and scored the first points of the match with a Kathryn Todorovich try. Shortly after, USA Eagle Jennine Detiveaux took a long run back to the Severn try zone to even the score for Knoxville while Laura Morse put the Minx ahead with her first of four conversions. A try from Severn River gave the Badgers the lead, 10-7, but a missed pass on the next possession ended up in the hands of Morse who returned it for a Minx try and the 12- 10 lead only two minutes later. A final try and conversion to end the first forty minutes of play gave Knoxville a 19-10 advantage having scored twelve consecutive points. The Minx and Honey Badgers traded two tries apiece in the second half, but Knoxville maintained the lead throughout the final forty minutes, holding on to defeat Severn River 33-22. Morse led all scorers with thirteen points (one try, four conversions) while Detiveaux added ten points via two tries. Amy Towe and Rachel Stoneburner also scored tries for Minx. Todorvich tallied ten points on two tries for Severn River while Tanya Gouws and Cheryl Johnson each added one try for the Honey Badgers. Detiveaux was named MVP of the tournament for Knoxville.   

Sunday’s 1pm start time matches determined the men’s D2 National Champion between Denver Barbarians and Boise United and the women’s D1 National Champion between San Diego Surfers and NOVA.   

Men’s D2 National Championship full-time score: Denver Barbarians 49 – Boise United 34   

After a heartbreaker loss in the 2022 national final in Atlanta, Denver found their way back to the national title game on Sunday in St. Charles facing off with a solid Boise team. A stolen scrum eventually led to a Barbarians try to open the scoring in the match as Denver went up 7-0 about twelve minutes into the contest. However, Boise responded to take a 12-7 lead following a pass to lock Jacob Hardy who, in stride, cruised past the Denver defenders on the way to the try zone near the twenty-minute mark in the first half. Two tries thereafter for Denver ultimately led to a 24-12 lead at halftime. Shortly into the second half, Boise was able to bring the score back to within seven points as the deficit was cut to 24-17, but it would be all Barbarians after as Luka Pavlakis scored the first of three back-to-back to back tries that put them up 41-17. Luca Tani added two of his three tries on the day in that stretch as well. Despite the deficit, Boise made a strong comeback push scoring seventeen points in the final ten minutes of the match. An impressive run and try scored by Devarius Miller and a late penalty kick by Liam Wynne helped to maintain the lead as the Barbarians held on to win the men’s D2 national title, 49-34. Dante Brown, Henry Kafonek, and Alex Wormer also scored tries for Denver while Noah Pflaum and Wynne each added conversions. Denver’s Jack Miller was named MVP of the tournament. All six Boise tries were scored by different players. 

Women’s D1 National Championship full-time score: San Diego Surfers 45 – NOVA 22   

Arguably the most impressive performance of the weekend belonged to the Surfers who tallied 119 total points between their two victories while holding opponents to only thirty-two combined points. San Diego took the first lead of the match around five minutes into the contest on a Sharee Collins try. NOVA responded with a score by Katie Noriega and a good conversion to take the lead, 7-5. A try by Christy Xie and a good conversion retook the lead for the Surfers, 12-7. A penalty kick for NOVA brought the game back to within a manageable two points, however a high-speed offensive explosion saw the Surfers jump out to a 31-10 lead at halftime, scoring three consecutive tries on the defending champs from Cathy Cai, Alexa Scott, and Teigan MacDonald with two conversions by Kaylee Westmoreland. NOVA came out of the half with a try by Emily Blease. However, strong pressuring defense from San Diego led to an intercepted pass at their own defensive 22-meter line by Cai who returned the ball for another Surfers try and the 38-17 lead nearing 60-minutes of play. Less than a minute into the restart of play after the score, a long Madison Arenchild run set up the Surfers’ final try of the afternoon by Julie Buescher to extend the lead to 45-17 San Diego in the final twenty minutes of the match. Haley Robinson scored the final try for NOVA to cut the deficit, but Surfers would hold off the late push as they hung on to win the 2023 women’s D1 national title, 45-22, unseating the two-time defending national champion. Westmoreland tallied ten points on conversion kicks in the match while Buescher was named tournament MVP.   

The only match of the Sunday, 3pm slot was the final championship match of the weekend featuring Austin Blacks and Old Blue.   

Men’s D1 National Championship full-time score: Austin Blacks 38 – Old Blue 14   

The first score of the game came shortly 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 courtesy of loosehead prop Dejon Taylor with the conversion added by Julian Caceres around the 3-minute mark. Around the 11-minute mark, Austin 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 and with 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 (after the conversion) 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 penalty conceded by Austin nearing their own try zone gave possession back to Old Blue. A hard run to the try zone by Kyle Granby cut into the lead, now 30-14 Austin at the 50th minute. However, 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.   

All Sunday, June 4 Results

11am – men’s D3 championship: Austin Blacks 18 – Colorado Springs Grizzlies 14 

11am – women’s D2 championship: Knoxville Minx 33 – Severn River 22   

1pm – men’s D2 championship: Denver Barbarians 49 – Boise United 34 

1pm – women’s D1 championship: San Diego Surfers 45 – NOVA 22   

3pm – men’s D1 championship: Austin Blacks 38 – Old Blue 14

2023 USA Club Rugby National Champions   

Austin Blacks Men’s D1 National Champion Red River Rugby Conference Champion

San Diego Surfers Women’s D1 National Champion Pacific Super Regional Champion Southern California Rugby Football Union Champion

Denver Barbarians Men’s D2 National Champion Northern Super Regional Champion Rocky Mountain Rugby Champion

Knoxville Minx Women’s D2 National Champion Gulf Coast Super Regional Champion True South Rugby Union Champion

Austin Blacks Men’s D3 National Champion Gulf Coast Super Regional Champion Red River Rugby Conference Champion