BOULDER, Colo. – Spring break for many college students means getting away from campus to get minds off of textbooks and exams. For Saint Mary’s, and a host of all college rugby teams, spring break is an opportunity to go on tour.
The Gaels are currently in the midst of a three-match east coast tour. The cross-country trip’s opening contest, a 76-3 pounding of Dartmouth, was an excellent way to erase the bitter taste of the team’s previous two matches – road losses to BYU and Cal.
In both games, Saint Mary’s built early leads only to have to them slip away in the second half.
“It’s all on us,” the Gaels’ Holden Yungert admitted. “Granted, those are two great teams, but we’ve got to make sure we’re making all of our passes, not have so many mental errors and knock-ons.”
Any close observer of the Saint Mary’s program will have noticed a level of accountability within the team’s players and coaches. This accountability, coupled with the team’s brief but difficult losing streak, have helped create higher levels of intensity at training.
“We just have to tighten up as a team, and push each other,” said Yungert. “I think we might have lost that a bit after cruising through the first part of the season.”
The intensity levels must have been elevated during the Gaels’ March 30 practice at Harvard University, because D1A’s No. 2-ranked team absolutely brought it to the Big Green the following day, and never let Dartmouth within a whiff of making it a competitive match.
“We had monstrously quick ball, and that’s our go-to,” Yungert explained. “With us going forward, we capitalized on them being on their back foot, and made a lot of line breaks.”
Elusive center Kingsley McGowan unleashed a hat trick on the gracious Ivy League hosts, and Henry Hall’s presence at lock was utilized, as well. Hall made his return to the Saint Mary’s lineup last week against Cal, and is just now returning to form after missing several weeks due to a hamstring injury.
With more than 30 athletes on tour, the Gaels used their second side against Rugby East’s Iona College April 1. After traveling four hours from Hanover, N.H., to New Rochelle, N.Y., the morning of the match, Saint Mary’s wasn’t quite turned on from the opening kick and Iona jumped the visitors by scoring the match’s first 17 points. The Gaels reserves woke up in the second half, and rallied off the final 10 points of the game to bring the final score to a 27-27 tie.
“They came out running hard, running straight, and were very athletic,” Yungert, who watched the match from the sideline, said of Iona’s performance.
Like any rugby tour, the trip for the defending National Champions is not all about what goes on between the touch lines. Saint Mary’s is taking time to enjoy some of the eye-opening sights New York City has to offer, including the Statue of Liberty and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
“This tour is meant to bring us closer together as a team and iron out some wrinkles on the field,” said the feisty scrum half.
While there is plenty to see in New York City, the Gaels still won’t lose sight of their final match of the tour – an April 4 date with Army. Saint Mary’s, which never backs down from a challenge, will enjoy the task of facing a top-five team on the road.
For Army, the cadets will surely be chomping at the bit to compete against an elite college squad. West Point’s first encounter with such a team didn’t go so well – a 53-19 beat down at the hands of No. 1-ranked Life. However, the chore of keeping pace with the Gaels’ physical, yet wide-open style couldn’t have come at a better time. Army is coming off of an invigorating win over military service academy rival Navy.
The match against Saint Mary’s also marks West Point’s final game before the D1A Playoffs, while the Gaels only have one last California Conference match against Santa Clara remaining on their calendar. So, for two teams anticipating deep runs in the D1A Playoffs, their postseason mentality starts now.