BY BROOKE RENNA, MANAGING EDITOR OF CONTENT
They did it.
The Susquehanna men’s rugby team claimed the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union championship after defeating Neumann 55-24 on Nov. 15. The Crusaders have yet to lose this season.
Head Coach Jon Niles said: “We’ve had some big victories this year, and in the past we’ve gotten to the championship three years in a row, and in the two previous games, we were just too injured or had mental lapses.”
He continued, “We just couldn’t handle the teams we were playing and couldn’t quite get to that level. We finally won one.”
Senior captain and fly-half Alex Holderbaum said: “We have had many seasons that have come up short, and at the beginning of the year during preseason, the team came together. I talked about how this was going to be a journey and nothing would get in our way.”
Within the first two minutes of the game, Holderbaum was able to secure the first try, at the price of an ankle injury that took him out for the remainder of the game.
Niles said: “We scored a minute and half into a game, and that was both a high and a low because Alex Holderbaum scored, but hurt his ankle on the same play, and he wasn’t able to continue in the game after that.”
Niles added: “It’s always tough when you lose one of your leaders on the field. He is a four-year starter, a back line captain, a team captain and coach on the field.”
Despite losing one of their starters, the Crusaders adjusted and continued to increase their lead, with senior eight man Aaron Trate taking on the role of field captain, sophomore fly-half Sean Hake directing the backline, sophomore Josh Ream moving to inside center and junior Matt Bodmer coming in as a wing.
Senior fullback Spencer Zuech took advantage of the conversion kick off of Holderbaum’s try and followed it with a try of his own six minutes later, bringing Susquehanna’s lead to 12-0.
This was followed by Trate scoring five minutes later, with Zuech completing the conversion kick.
At the 27-minute mark, junior flanker Mike Farina scored, which was followed by junior scrum-half Joe Borza’s only try of the game.
Borza, like Holderbaum, was injured in the process of scoring the try.
Niles said: “We lost [Borza] and brought a freshmen onto the wing, having moved Bodmer to scrum-half. We had used both of our back-line subs, which I was not expecting to have to do in the first half.”
Despite another big injury, the Crusaders kept the pressure on Neumann.
Senior outside center Luke Wenzel scored, and Zuech completed the kick, bringing the lead to 36-0.
Neumann wasn’t out of the game yet, though. The team was able to get on the scoreboard after a try in the 38th minute of the half.
Neumann continued to build momentum into the second half.
They put seven more points on the board before Susquehanna responded at the 18-minute mark with a second try by Trate and a conversion kick by Zuech.
Zuech scored his second try of the game four minutes later.
Neumann scored back-to-back tries, decreasing Susquehanna’s lead to 48-24.
The Crusaders, however, were able to put seven more points on the board at the end of the second half with a try from Wenzel and a kick from Zuech, finishing the game with a score of 55-24.
Holderbaum said: “At the end of the day we won by a pretty big margin, and that is a testament to the depth we have on our team. Everyone was able to play at a high level and pick up when guys had to step out for injury.”
With this win under their belt, the Crusaders are one of the top 16 teams out of the 245 teams from across the nation and will be moving on to the National Championship Round of 16 to play against Mount St. Mary’s, who finished fourth in the tournament last year, in Charlotte, North Carolina in March 2015.
Niles said: “We’re not going down there just to go down there. We’re going down there to take it one game at a time. Win on Saturday and then win on Sunday to make it to the National Championship Final Four in Denver.”
Holderbaum agreed. He said, “Our goals have changed from just being EPRU Champions to National Champions.”