Minutemen compete for national championship this weekend.

By Scott Cournoyer

The Massachusetts men’s rugby team looks to capture a national championship this weekend when they face the best 16 teams in the country.

Coach Al Baker is anxious to see how his team’s style of play will translate this weekend, as they play Saturday against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“We like to stick with basic fundamentals,” Baker said. “Once in awhile, we’ll put a couple new plays in, but mostly we stick with what works for us.”

The team uses a style of offense that is similar to what is a “run and gun” offense in basketball, moving quickly and trying to push the ball up the field while using a lot of support behind it. If they want to be successful this weekend, according to Baker, the Minutemen must believe in each other and continue to play their style of game.

“We rely on close support, and good offloading of the ball…our forwards need to be in support at every point of contact. Scrum-half needs to control the pace of the game.”

Winning the New England Division II Championship in the fall, UMass showcased their talent at the Cherry Blossom Tournament in Washington, D.C. last weekend. The Minutemen not only faced the best collegiate team in the nation in Georgetown, they were able to bring home the trophy in a 23-20 win.

The game went back and forth for all 40 minutes of play, as both teams traded two penalty kicks each in the first half.  A penalty kick early in the second half eventually was the difference in the game, as UMass and the Hoyas went point for point from then on for the rest of the game. 

“The Georgetown game really helped us raise our intensity,” Baker said. “It’s the kind of game you look forward to, and they certainly gave it to us.”

Like the game against the Hoyas, UMass will look to continue using their style of grinding the ball up the middle of the field. The choice has proven to be a successful one, as the Minutemen combined to outscore their opponents 77-34 over four games in the tournament.  

Captains Dan Doherty and Edaun Pickholz will help to carry the team deep into the national tournament.

“Now that we’ve been playing in knockout competition since early spring, not only do we have to be in top shape, but we needed to also seek out those leaders that will help reproduce that feeling of success,” said Baker. 

 The Warhawks won the Midwest Region Championship in the fall, and is a team who knows how to close out its opponents, winning four out of five playoffs game in the fall by four points or less, including a 13-12 championship win. 

This weekend is a great chance for the program to take even another step forward, further getting their program out to the rest of the rugby community.

“[The national championship] gets people outside of our bubble to realize that we are a serious program,” said Baker.

UMass will face the best of the best in Division II over the weekend, competing against top teams such as Vermont and Middlebury College, who come from the northeast region along with the Minutemen. 

Baker says that this opportunity, along with advancing back to Division I play this fall has been a tremendous achievement.

“When I first got here, [the alumni] had a big problem with us not being in Division I,” Baker said.  “They never demanded for us to win a national title, or a New England championship. All they wanted was for us to get back to Division I, the best of the best, and now we’re back.”

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected]