The Wheeling Jesuit rugby squad kicked off their spring sevens season with a third-place finish at the SUNY-Buffalo leg of Empire Rugby Conference sevens series.
The Cardinals picked up wins over the home team University of Buffalo and Syracuse University before defeating Stony Brook University in the tournament's 3rd/4th place game. The only setback for WJU came at the hands of Notre Dame College who finished 2nd behind eventual champion Kutztown.
Rugby sevens is the abbreviated version of the sport set to make it's Olympic debut in the 2016 games in Rio, and features seven players per team as opposed to the traditional 15 players, and seven minute halves (allowing for a tournament to be completed in a short time frame).
"It was a good first effort from the team, and we were very happy with a 3rd place finish out of 12 teams," said WJU head coach Eric Jerpe. "Every player contributed and we began to play smarter and more cohesive rugby. This weekend's results bode well for the future as we have a solid foundation to build upon."
WJU opened the day's play with a 22-5 victory over hosts U. Buffalo. After suffering a slow start where both teams struggled with handling, the Cardinals found their rhythm in the second half with four tries from freshman Joji Vakasisikakala, Jamie Barlow, Brandon Stine and Luke Titus.
The Cardinal defense was forced to step up against an aggressive attack from Syracuse in game two, but kept the Orangemen at bay leading to a 15-0 win for WJU. The Cards showed some defensive prowess of their own with freshmen Nick Iavicoli and Daniel Villarreal putting their hands up as young players to watch. Meanwhile WJU's veterans provided the offensive spark with breakaway tries scored by Corben McInnis, Dante Walters and Dylan Seeley.
In game three of the afternoon, the Cardinals faced a Notre Dame College side that possessed a team speed that WJU had a difficult time containing. Despite having opportunities to score, maintaining possession proved to be the difference maker and NDC made WJU pay for every mistake, leading to a 37-5 loss for the Cardinals.
Eager to get back to their winning ways, the Cardinals then faced a tough task against a physical and decorated sevens side from Stony Brook University in the 3rd/4th place game. However, WJU turned in their best overall performance of the day, leading to a tense 20-19 victory to earn the bronze medal.
Iavicoli's defense proved to be the difference maker at a key point in the game for the Cardinals when he single-handedly blew two SBU attackers off of a ruck to produce the turnover needed for Jamie Barlow to speed in for a try. The big defensive play gave WJU the momentum necessary to put them on the front-foot for the rest of the game, allowing Titus, Walters, Vakasisikakala and Barlow (again) to score for the Cardinals, leading to the win.
The Cardinals are slated to return to action following the Easter break when they travel to Kutztown to take on the powerful Golden Bears at a tournament hosted on their home turf.
WJU 22 – 5 SUNY Buffalo
Tries: Vakasisikakala, Barlow, Stine, Titus
WJU 15 – 0 Syracuse
Tries: McInnis, Walters, Seeley
WJU 5 – 37 NDC
WJU 20 – 19 Stony Brook
Tries: Barlow (2), Titus, Vakasisikakala, Walters
WJU Sevens squad for tournament: