UMass topples Warhawks, Sun Devils over weekend

By Scott Cournoyer

The Massachusetts men’s club rugby team took two steps closer to winning the national championship over the weekend, beating Wisconsin-Whitewater 32-18 and Arizona State 22-6  to advance to the semi-finals. 

UMass (10-1) used its aggressive style of passing patterns in close proximity to confuse the opponent to the point of committing unnecessary penalties.

“We feel like we surprised our opponents pretty well,” said UMass coach Al Baker. “We found ways of exploiting our opponent’s weaknesses, such as kicking into open spaces and playing aggressive right out of the gate.”

Baker said his club became stronger as the game went on against the Warhawks, and that the wins on back-to-back days showed a lot about his team’s passion to win.

“We feel like we can compete with anybody right now,” Baker said.

The Minutemen faced two of the top 16 teams in division II rugby, first sending home the best ranked team on Saturday in the Midwest region.

UMass continued its style of grinding the ball up the field and scoring, but the kicking game was a key factor in the victory.

“Our junior Josh Reed stepped in to fill the shoes as penalty and extra point kicker, and stepped up big time,” Baker said. “We forced them to commit penalties in the try zone due to our attack style, and it gave us the opportunity to put up some easy points.”

In the game on Sunday, UMass stifled the Sun Devils high-scoring offense, allowing six points.

“We really focused on using defensive patterns that would allow us to keep them contained to certain areas the field,” Baker said.

Without a full day of rest in between games, UMass faced a team that was undefeated.

“They’re a really good club that plays an aggressive style of play,” Baker said.

Arizona won the Southern California regional championship in the fall and was No. 2 in the top 25 poll going into the matchup.

UMass’ offensive strategy has been successful all season, including the recent Cherry Blossom tournament, where the team combined to outscore its opponents 77-34 over four games.

“Playing an aggressive style, we knew that [Arizona] would be like us, in a sense that most of their strength came from working a lot of people on the ball at once,” Baker said. “We were able to spread them out a little, while keeping our guys close together and retain the ball quickly.”

The Minutemen will make their way to Albany, NY this Saturday to face Albany.

“At this point in the season, we’re in full-gear, ready to compete against anyone,” Baker said. “But, we also know the importance of rest and time to heal. We’ll continue to play our style of game, getting in the guys most fresh and healthy, and prepare for the final four in two weeks.”

UMass will take on Temple in the Final Four in two weeks. Baker stated that the challenge is a difficult one, but he believed his team is up to the task.

“This weekend showed something about us,” Baker said. “It takes a team, working together the whole game to win in rugby. This weekend showed that we can hang with anyone, and we hope to continue our success when we head out west.” 

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected].