St. Thomas’ Blue Ox rugby team ripped through its final tuneup matches before next week’s national tournament as it swept the Macalester Cup Saturday.
The Blue Ox took out St. Olaf 15-0 in its first match and followed up with a 25-0 trouncing of Minnesota Morris to advance to the final of the six-team tournament against Carleton. Strong defense was on display yet again in the championship as the Blue Ox blanked Carleton 17-0 and was awarded the “Black Sheep” trophy.
“One thing we’ve always prided ourselves on is we’ve got good defense,” senior captain Sam Glynn said. “We’re pretty damn proud.”
After cruising through its first match, Blue Ox was able to open up a comfortable lead over Minnesota Morris after a highlight-reel play by junior Dan Carr. Carr stuffed a Morris kick attempt near midfield, scooped the ball up and beat a pair of Morris defenders on a sprint up the sideline to notch the try and 5 points.
“I was pretty tired after that one,” Carr said.
From there defense took over and left no doubt as Morris was rarely able to advance the ball into the Blue Ox zone.
After hoisting the tournament trophy, players were excited to be bringing a tournament championship’s worth of momentum to the April 17 national tournament in Chicago.
“It’s priceless; we can’t ask for more,” Glynn said. “When we come out with stuff like this… it’s going to be a huge advantage next weekend.”
The Blue Ox qualified for the national tournament after winning the Division III championship last fall. The qualification for nationals came as a surprise when U.S. Rugby announced the national tournament would be expanded to include all Division III clubs, making the Blue Ox eligible despite its lack of university affiliation.
After winning the championship, preparations were made to fundraise for the tournament and set a spring schedule that would prepare them for the national tournament. With Saturday’s performance, the Blue Ox is confident in its ability to perform at nationals.
“To say that we’re going there not expecting to come out with a championship we would be lying to ourselves,” junior Dan Hallman said. “We’re going to Chicago expecting to come back as champions.”
Senior Ross Alberts said the national tournament is played all in one day, with the eight teams split into pool play before winners advance to the championship round. Viterbo University, who the Blue Ox defeated in the Division III championship game, will also be in the national tournament field.
Successful fundraising has made it possible for the entire Blue Ox roster to make the trip to Chicago, which will be crucial for the long tournament schedule. Alberts said the shortened halves of Saturday’s tournament were good preparation for the national tournament, which is also played with shorter than regular 40-minute halves.
Alberts stands as a strong example of the unification and toughness of a team that has worked hard to shed a bad-boy reputation after losing its school sponsorship years ago. Unfortunately, he had to take an inactive role and watch Saturday’s matches from the sideline due to an injury sustained in the first match of the fall season.
“We’re usually a lot smaller, so we teach to take out the legs,” Alberts said. “I just happened to catch a knee right in the chin.”
Surgery has wired Albert’s jaw shut, making it difficult for him to speak, but it is unable to mask the pride he has in his teammates. Running up and down the sidelines and encouraging the Blue Ox throughout its Saturday matches, Alberts coached younger teammates and helped the referee with friendly reminders throughout the championship.
Alberts will join the rest of the team in Chicago, where they will arrive April 16 to stay in eight two-bed hotel rooms. While Alberts will be there the whole way for his team on Saturday, he is smart enough to know his best chance to do that might be by getting a bit of separation from them on Friday night.
“It’s going to be a tight squeeze, so I’m planning on bring down my camping gear and crashing on the floor,” Alberts said.
Sleep for the entire team will be key for the tournament’s grueling schedule, but Glynn is confident that “we’re in good shape right now.”
“It’s going to be a battle,” he said. “But if we play our game, we can win that tournament.”
Jordan Osterman can be reached at email@example.com.