Wheeling Jesuit Rugby raised a lot of eyebrows today in their first ever rugby tournament, finishing 2-3, and taking a hard fought fourth place in the Mid-America Sevens Qualifying Tournament.
WJU’s inaugural day of rugby was highlighted by some brilliant individual performances, big wins, and narrow losses to established completion. Considering WJU fielded a team entirely comprised of freshman, Head Coach Eric Jerpe came away from the tournament with a positive outlook on the future.
“We are really pleased with our first hit out as a program.” Said Jerpe. “ Our young guys showed a lot of talent and played with a lot of heart. We set the bar for our program high today, and need to keep raising the standard.”
The Cardinals knew coming into the tournament it would be difficult to on top of their pool, facing defending D1-AA National Champions Davenport University in their opening match. The Panthers came into the tournament favored to win, with All-American JP Eloff leading from the front.
Davenport and WJU traded blows throughout the game, and found themselves tied 17 apiece with seconds left to play. Davenport scooped up a loose ball from a scrum and found a gap though to go up 17-22 just as time expired.
Next up for Wheeling Jesuit were the Bearcats of Cincinnati. WJU would come out firing, putting 17 points on the board in the first half. The Cardinals then went to their bench in an effort to keep their starters fresh. The less experienced subs gave up three tries to the Bearcats in the second half before Dante Walters sealed the game for WJU with a strong run from mid-field. The win put WJU in second place in their pool, and into the Quarterfinals to face Pool A’s #1 seed, Miami of Ohio.
The Cardinals would hit their stride against Miami. From the get go, Peter Malcolm and Jessie Jensen dominated the restarts to give Wheeling Jesuit go-forward ball and put them in an attacking position. The Cards jumped out to a 22-0 lead in the first half, and would not look back. WJU went on to thrash the highly touted Miami squad 40-0 to advance to the Cup Semi-Final against home team Bowling Green.
The match against the Falcons would come down to a battle of wills with the home team squeaking out a five point lead at the half. WJU came back to take a short lead early in the second, but the BG’s powerful attack would prove too much for the Cards, and they would fall 12-7. Next up would be the University of Notre Dame to determine 3rd/4th place.
After four physical matches, WJU was clearly fatigued, but the sting loss to Bowling Green would provide motivation to leave it all on the field against the physically imposing Fighting Irish. Again, the Cardinals would take a brief 7-5 lead in the second half, but Notre Dame would prove too strong for WJU taking the 12-7 win.
Davenport would go on to dominate Bowling Green in the championship 36-12 and earn an automatic berth to the USA Rugby Collegiate Sevens National Championship in November.
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