On 21 May 2018 UMW Rugby travelled to Tucson Arizona a few days prior to the start of USA Rugby 2019 College 7's National Championship to compete in the D1AA side of the tournament. The plan according to Coach Tyler Stephens was to give the players two days to get acclimated to the desert air and train twice a day during those days to prep them for the weekend. The strategy worked brilliantly!
Day one of the tournament opened up 3 matches of pool play. With Mary Washington having the number one seed in the country due to their spectacular season record, they would be playing against Nebraska, Oregon State, and Florida International University. 13 seconds into the match Harry Masters broke through for the first try of the tournament and a successful conversion by Aidan Gallagher. The next phase of play found UMW playing solid defense and allowing Bradlee Nicholls to draw a penalty and put Joseph Callery in for another converted try. Even though UMW faced a few high tackle penalties, they persevered and every line break made by Nebraska was stopped by sweeper Bradlee Nicholls. The first half ended with an unbelievable goal line defense on the corner by Matthew Gordon and Seamus Brennan and scrum in favor of UMW. With Seamus crashing the ball he offloaded to Aidan Gallagher for a long try to end the half at 21-0. The second half of the match went quickly with great ball handling and forward pace by UMW putting Joseph Callery in for a try. UMW once again capitalizing on a Nebraska penalty had Peter Smith drawing defenders in and cleanly offloading to Jose Reyes for a try to put them up 33-0. The match ended once again with UMW proving their ability at goal line defense with Justin Ford forcing a knock by Nebraska to end it.
A few hours later UMW took the field against Oregon State for their second match. Once again with quick and deadly precision Mary Washington was able to put a try in at the 25 second mark when Joseph Callery split their defensive line and score. For the next two minutes UMW played hard defense until they were able to force an error by Oregon State. Harry Masters offloaded beautifully to Seamus Brennan to tear down the field with quick ruck support by Matthew Gordon putting Justin Ford in for a try. Immediately after Ford's try, he put work in the air on kickoff to gain Mary Washington possession again. Another flurry of quick ball play had Phil Harrison crashing down the sideline with heavy support for a ruck. Harry Masters split the spread defense of Oregon for a try to be successfully converted. The second half started out with a beautiful grubber kick by Masters ending on a perfect bounce into his hands. Unfortunately, he was chased down by the strong Oregon defense and stopped just meters from the try zone and losing the ball from lack of support. Oregon then had the opportunity to take a full field sprint but due to UMW's quick defensive pressure, Oregon knocked the ball on. With the ball moving again through the hands of UMW, Benn Mellinger drew two defenders in perfectly and let off a flick that you could barely follow with your eyes into the hands of hard crashing Aaron Bensink for a try. Aidan Gallagher converted this one perfectly. Oregon wasn't ready to give up and even with the solid defense that UMW was using on the edges, Oregon was able to get one try in up the middle as the match ended. Mary Washington walked away with another win, 24-7 over Oregon.
The last match of pool play was probably the most exciting match for UMW of the weekend in the sense of highlights and exciting plays. Florida International University (FIU) was 2-0 for the day as well as UMW so this match was to crown a winner of the pool. For the third time in a day, Mary Washington scored in under a minute at the 50 second mark. Seamus Brennan had a monstrous break directly off the kick off that ended with him getting seat belt tackled. In true fashion, he quick tapped his own penalty and dotted the ball down for a try. FIU responded with their only try of the match off of a smart grubber on the edge of the field that was touched down perfectly for a try. With perfect phase play UMW worked the ball through hands to set Lewis Grant up for a wing break into the try zone. In the remaining minutes UMW's defense was impenetrable until FIU was able to draw a penalty. They hit the field with a quick break but thankfully were chased down by Joseph Callery for a try saving tackle. What followed was listed by Flo Rugby as the longest try of the day for the tournament. Amazing defensive stand by Lewis Grant, Matthew Gordon, and Aidan Gallagher saw Captain Harry Masters running "coast to coast" for a 99 meter try to end the half. The roar of the crowd at that moment was unreal! UMW kicked off second half and retained the ball. Seamus Brennan then started off what would be the highlight play of the tournament for Mary Washington. Brennan worked the defensive line with a few steps and fed the ball through his back line putting the ball in Senior Phil Harrisons hands. Harrison dominated the contact point and smashed through FIU's defender to offload to Aidan Gallagher. Gallagher then hit Harry Masters with a perfect behind the back offload putting Masters in for a try. Gallagher successfully converted that try as well. Alec Charoenthep now on the field with fresh legs as a tactical substitution dominated half the field with his ball handling and footwork skills for a clean offload to Matthew Gordon to then pass to Justin Ford open on the wing for an easy try. Within the next three minutes Bradlee Nicholls was able to weave through the exhausted FIU defense for two tries on the wing solidifying UMW's number one seed going into the Quarterfinals the following day.
Day 2 was the start of knock out rounds starting with Mary Washington facing Kennesaw State University (KSU) in the Quarterfinals. The first two minutes of play saw KSU keeping UMW on their back foot, but quick thinking from their Captain Harry Masters had him quick tapping off a penalty to streak down the field for the first try of the day. Aidan Gallagher successfully converted putting the score 7-0. With UMW continuing to showcase their steadfast defense on day two, KSU was held every time on the wings and kept from scoring. Eventually Mary Washington forced an error and got a scrum in their favor, Seamus Brennan got ball in hand and ran straight at KSU defense. With a huge fend and offload to Aidan Gallagher they continued to gain meters towards the try zone. Moments before scoring, in contact Gallagher threw an over the head offload perfectly into Justin Fords waiting hands for a try. To end the first half, UMW used their "go forward" mentality on offense continually moving the ball ending in a ruck. Matthew Gordon with great field vision on fast pace rugby identified the weak side of the ruck for a pick and go try. Coming into the second half, UMW faced an unfortunate injury and drew a penalty in their favor. Joseph Callery immediately wove through KSU's defense drawing as many defenders to him as possible opening up one whole side of the field. This freed up the quick Bradlee Nicholls on the wing who ran it in for a quick try. After three minutes of UMW playing continuous defense and allowing zero breaks on the outside edges, KSU finally punched it through the middle for a converted try putting the score at 24-7. With one minute left on the clock, Mary Washington wasn't finished. With a quick lineout in their own 22, they worked the ball down the field with good support runners and smart offloads into the hands of Harry Masters who threw a massive step at the KSU defender and took the inside shoulder for a try under the posts. Mary Washington walked away with a win of 29-7 over Kennesaw State.
The second match of day two would prove to be hardest of the tournament for UMW as they faced Western Michigan University (WMU). Mary Washington came out of the gate fast and hard with brilliant phase play and continued "Go Forward" mentality moving the ball all the way to the try zone. Harry Masters went down with ball in hand on the line and took an injury in the process. After a few minutes with the trainer, Masters was back on his feet and quick tapping the restart. Western Michigan played hard goal line defense, but Mary Washington was able to draw enough defenders into rucks to put the ball in Justin Fords hands for a try. Barely a minute later Seamus Brennan was attacking Western Michigan's defenders with hard runs setting the next try up. The ball worked its way from the wing into the middle of the field with Matthew Gordon taking the ball on a massive drive hammering through a WMU defender for a try under the posts to be converted by Aidan Gallagher. The score now 12-0, Western Michigan would retaliate quickly moving the ball forward and wide to score back to back on both wings with unsuccessful conversions. The score standing at 12-10 coming into the second half, Western Michigan was still coming hard at Mary Washington's defense and put another try in on the wing, this one successfully converted to make the score 12-17. Three minutes of both sides working on offense and defense moving the ball back and forth had Western Michigan scoring their last try of the match to be converted again putting the score at 12-24. With two minutes left on the clock Western Michigan took a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Jose Reyes and Mary Washington responded with a fast break up the middle and a try by Alec Chareonthep successfully converted by Harry Masters. With UMW trailing 19-24 and time expired, the match ended with the ball being kicked out of bounds.
After the loss to Western Michigan, Mary Washington had one last match ahead of them against St. Joseph University (SJU) to clinch the bronze for the weekend. UMW had come to Nationals to make history and take home hardware, and that's exactly what they did against SJU. In the first minute of play Alec Chareonthep split the defensive line and carried the ball to the line and with quick ruck support, Joseph Callery was able to get the first try of the match to be successfully converted by Justin Ford. SJU responded with a try of their own by turning the wing defender and breaking through. Chareonthep followed suit seconds later splitting the SJU defensive line once again, this time for a full field break and try of his own. With UMW kicking off after the try, Lewis Grant set himself up perfectly to retain the kickoff and offloaded to Joseph Callery. Callery with his famous "duck feet" got through every defender he encountered to offload for an easy try by Harry Masters under the posts. The score now 17-5, SJU knew they had to keep pushing. They did that with a lengthy break down the field that Bradlee Nicholls sprinted more than 20 meters down the field to tackle and stop their momentum and ending the first half. Coming into the 2nd half, some great ball carrying by Seamus Brennan and Bradlee Nicholls who worked their offloads in contact put the ball in Joseph Callery's hands. Callery threw a brilliant dummy pass and opened the hole for himself to run a try in that Justin Ford converted. With the score at 24-5, the next two minutes both sides went back and forth with line breaks, tackles, and knock-ons. The last seconds of the match saw SJU with renewed energy put their last try in off of a long field breakaway. UMW won the match, 24-10.
Mary Washington ended the day in victory and ended their USA Rugby 2019 College 7's National Championship weekend with the Bronze. History was made this weekend for UMW and their play and sportsmanship was recognized and applauded across the country and across the world. Man of the Tournament goes to 7's Captain, Harry Masters, for his valiant work leading the team all weekend on and off the field. Honorable mentions go out to Senior Justin Ford and Freshman Seamus Brennan who played their hearts out. The chapter of D1AA rugby has now ended on a great note, and they look forward to their move up to D1A in the fall with a home opener against Kutztown on September 7, 2019.