BOULDER, Colo. – Lindenwood University was deemed one of the tougher Men’s Division I sides going into the May 23-24 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships, but in no way the favorite to win the whole tournament. Now, after a few lucky bounces and a gritty performance from the entire roster, the Lions are the kings of college sevens.
Lindenwood headed out to Denver, Colo., at a bit of a disadvantage. The team’s run to the D1A Semifinals in 15s left the Lions with only three weeks to prepare for College 7s, and the team used one of those precious weeks to stay clear of the pitch in order to rest their bodies and focus on final exams.
Regardless of the quick turnaround in codes, Lindenwood still stepped onto the facilities at the University of Denver with its typical swagger. The confident approach helped the Lions bury their three pool opponents by a combined 84-7 on the first day of the National Championship tournament.
As expected, day two’s knockout rounds were immensely challenging for all teams involved, especially for the Lions, who looked like they were headed for the exit door of the tournament against both American International College and Utah.
In the Cup Quarterfinals against AIC, Lindenwood fought back from three deficits in 11 minutes – including the game winner from Mickey Bateman, who eventually won the Dave Sitton Most Valuable Player award, in the match’s final minute to advance with a 21-17 win.
Against Utah, D1A’s fourth-ranked Lions stared down a 10-7 hole late in the second half of the Cup Semifinals. This time, it was Tom O’Connor who extended Lindenwood’s tournament and moved the team into the Cup Final after providing the try that gave his side a 12-10 win.
“It was all heart,” Lindenwood number eight Sebastian Kalm said of his team’s resilience in the Cup Quarters and Semis. “We knew defense was going to be big against teams that were going to attack us. We worked hard to link up, and although we didn’t have the ball long, we were effective.”
In the Final against Mid-South rival Davenport, the Lions weren’t forced to stage a come-from-behind victory, but they did continue to play with the grit and determination they showed all weekend. In fact, Lindenwood never trailed after Kalm put his team on the board first with a beautifully-placed chip and chase for a try – a skilled and instinctive play not often pulled off by a loose forward.
“That came from my soccer roots,” said the senior from Santiago, Chile. “At the last minute I saw a gap and just went with it. I got a lucky bounce of the ball, and I didn’t even need to dive on it.”
An exhausting weekend of action turned into jubilation as the Lions led, 28-10, when the final whistle blew, officially crowning Lindenwood as College 7s National Champions.
“At first I was just thankful the game was over and we made it,” Kalm recalls of his initial reaction. “But it wasn’t until last night when I was looking at my medal that I was able to realize we’re the best college sevens team in USA Rugby.”
On Monday night, the Lions relived the National Championship victory as a team by getting together to watch the replay of the Cup Final on ESPNU.
“It was unbelievable to watch ourselves play in such a professional atmosphere,” boasted Kalm. “Watching myself play rugby with my friends on television was an incredible experience.”
After back-to-back experiences in the D1A Semifinals, the 2015 Men’s DI College 7s crown is just one more indication that Lindenwood has arrived in college rugby’s elite.
“I know we’ve achieved something really great for the school and for the rugby team,” Kalm added. “It’s something I’ll always live with.”