By Justin Rutledge | 03.19.16
There are few better ways to start off the spring than with a weekend trip in the lovely Georgia sun. That’s what the Cleveland Crusaders did last weekend, with the added bonus of winning the annual Saint Patrick’s Day tournament held by the Savannah Shamrocks.
On March 11, the Crusaders converged on an unsuspecting La Quinta hotel in Savannah, Georgia with the hopes of taking two sets of hardware home. The club sent its first side and a squad of reserves down to play in two of the tournament’s competitive men’s divisions. While the reserves had a little tougher luck on the field, the first side dug deep and gutted out three wins to secure first place in the Green Division.
On Saturday, the first die beat out the Willing and Cincinnati Wolfhounds by close margins. The first match put up 13 points in both matches while holding the Willing to eight points in the first match and keeping the Cincinnati Wolfhounds’ score to a mere six points in the second match. By taking both wins on Saturday, the first side was able to get the late match on Sunday against the USA Rugby South Panthers for the championship.
The first side took the field against the Panthers in the final time slot on Sunday. To say the least, the sides seemed unfair. The select side came to the match with a group of impressive individual players, whereas the Crusaders were a unit beginning to gel again after a break from competition.
The match was riddled with mistakes on both sides of the ball. After a few bone-rattling tackles from the likes of Joe Brown, the Panthers began to anticipate the hits coming. These lapses in concentration caused the ball to hit the deck on a number of occasions and put a stop to any momentum that might have been building. On the rare occasion that the Panthers did break the Crusaders, they didn’t make it far. Aside from the team’s two tries, Cleveland defenders generally ran down any would-be attackers and realigned the defense. The Crusaders took advantage of poor discipline by the Panthers, and Nick Viviani slotted six successful penalty kicks to secure the win for his team. The Crusaders’ players also made life more difficult than it had to be with some indiscretions of their own. Incidents at the breakdown gave the Panthers unearned meters and even a man-up advantage at two points in the match. Fortunately for the Crusaders, the remaining players were able to keep level heads and grind out a narrow victory.
The weekend as a whole was a success for the Crusaders. Even though the reserves went 1-2, tremendous strides were made, especially in the last match of the tournament. Ryan Sands and new recruit Daniel Robertson showed out to keep the reserve side during the final match, while a last-gasp a try from another new member, Adam Thompson, sealed the win. These three were just a few of the reserves that played with heart and tenacity the entire tournament. Having more than 15 men with this kind of heart and drive on the reserve list, should make for an interesting Spring season. The first side’s success stretches beyond the perfect record and hardware. During the break, Head Coach Donnie Harbert preached about mental toughness and how important it was, especially in big matches. The Crusaders’ first side definitely exhibited mental toughness from all of its players. Whether it was getting surprised a bit by the toughness of the Willing or rallying around one another when the sin bin minutes were ticking away, each player dug deep and stuck with the program. If this trend continues, this inaugural Spring could be even bigger than the Fall.
As Harbert said at training earlier in the week, last weekend is over. Next up, the Crusaders travel west on to visit the old stomping grounds of some of its players – Bowling Green State University. The Crusaders plan to test themselves against the perennial MAC Champions – and hopefully entice a few of them to come to Cleveland upon graduation – in a bid to keep preparing for playoffs. The Falcons have produced top-tier talent for years and competed against some of the best teams in the nation, so this weekend’s clash should prove to be a challenge. With that being the case, the Crusaders have stacked their first XV with the club’s big guns.
There will be a number of former Falcons making the start in the first match Saturday. Scott LIechty and Dane Szente will be in the front row representatives, while Terry Kilbane will be starting at second row. Derek Imes. Scott Wallace, Nick Viviani and Nick Musarra will be causing havoc in the back line as well. Adding to the threats from Cleveland will be Kent State product Joe Brown, who will be the second lock in the forwards and the team’s captain, Zach Webb, a graduate of Ashland University. Other notable back line additions for Clkeveland are 2015 Defender of the Year, Tyler Best, and Ohio University alum Billy Regan, who will certainly put the pressure on in the center of the field. Keeping with the former-Falcon theme, recent graduate, Steve Fritsch, will be waiting in the wings to join the melee. Not-so-recent-graduate, Michael Travis, will also be on hand to provide a boost to the pack as needed.
The Crusaders and Falcons will play a pair of matches on Saturday, with the first contest kicking off at 1:00pm.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY RUGBY TOURNAMENT
Men’s Premier Division
Cleveland Crusaders 18, USA South Panthers 14
Men’s Division II
The Willing 21, Chattanooga 17
Buffalo State 17, Black Horse (Fredonia, N.Y.) 0
Men’s Social Division
Hartford Wanderers 43, Kenton Misfits 8
Men’s Social Division
Buck’s 31, Lexington 17
Men’s Social Division
Columbia Old Grey 19, Cape Fear 5
Gypsies 10, Hilton Head Mullets 8
Virginia Tech 19, North Carolina State 5
Raleigh Venom 31, Gypsies 0
Sugar and Spice 24, Bombshells 12
1979 – University of Georgia
1980 – Atlanta High Country
1981 – Jacksonville
1982 – Mystic River Club, University of Maryland (college)
1983 – Xavier Old Boys
1984 – Life College
1985 – Augusta
1986 – Cincinnati Marmots
1987 – Pelicans (St. Petersburg)
1988 – Augusta
1989 – Old White (Atlanta)
1990 – Life College
1991 – Bergan
1992-3 Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebels Ottawa, Canada
1994 – Maryland Exiles
1995 – New York City Rugby Club
1996 – BAT’S Boston Area Touring Side
1997-98 – Northern Virginia
1999-2000 – New York Athletic Club
2001 – White Plains New York
2002 – Unpossible XV
2003 – Atlanta Renegades
2004 – Cincinnati Wolfhounds
2005 – Worchester RFC
2006 – Air Force
2007-10 – The Willing
2011 – Cincinnati Wolfhounds
2012— U.S. States Air Force
2013 – Cincinnati Wolfhounds
2014 – USA Rugby South Panthers
2015 – Cincinnati Wolfhounds