NORTHFIELD — The Norwich University men’s rugby team heads to Charlotte, N.C., this weekend to compete in the USA Rugby Division II National Tournament Final Four.

The Cadets (8-2, 4-1 Rugby Northeast) have won eight straight games and are making their third trip to the 15s national semifinals in the last four years. Norwich finished third during back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, losing to UW-Whitewater in 2016 and falling to VMI in 2017 in the national semifinals. During both years the Cadets bounced back to earn victories in the third-place games.

Norwich maintained its No. 1 spot in the national rankings released for the second week in a row. The Cadets withstood their toughest challenge in over two months to remain in the top spot. Norwich rallied from three separate 17-point deficits to pull off a 60-41 come-from-behind victory over second-ranked Furman University in overtime.

Norwich trailed 41-24 with 15 minutes left and scored two tries in the last 1:30 of the game. The Cadets recorded the game-tying try and conversion on the final play of the game.

“All season we have been challenging ourselves during the training sessions and in our weekly matches,” Norwich coach Bob Weggler said. “These repetitions are the learning lab which we build from. Each and every day we are trying to better ourselves in the challenges we face. At Furman we overcame challenges that were presented to us. We played to the final whistle and then some. That is all any coach can ask for.”

The Cadets will face a familiar foe as they attempt to make their first national championship game appearance. Norwich will take on No. 3 Queens University of Charlotte, which knocked the Cadets out of last year’s national tournament with a 29-26 win in the round of 16.

Perennial powerhouse UW-Whitewater will make its seventh straight Final Four appearance. The No. 4 Warhawks will take on newcomer Missouri Science and Technology, which is ranked sixth.

Norwich and Queens will face off at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Sportsplex at Matthews Stadium, while UW-Whitewater and Missouri S&T will follow at 4 p.m. The winners will meet in the championship game at 3 p.m. Sunday. The losers will play in the third-place game at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Norwich is led by senior Nathan Rolling, who has tallied a team-leading 21 tries on the season. He recorded five tries in the Cadets’ 60-41 quarterfinal win over Furman. Rolling has been on fire during the Cadets’ four-game playoff run, racking up 14 tries.

Sophomore McKinley Nagel has added seven tries, while junior Kyle Clark has chipped in with six tries. Senior Jeffrey Minicucci is 43 of 58 on conversions and made seven successful penalty kicks to account for 87 points.

Queens (7-1) presents the toughest challenge Norwich has faced defensively this season as the Royals offense is one of the most potent in USA Rugby Division II. Queens defeated Lehigh 82-10 before earning a 66-12 victory over Rugby Northeast powerhouse UMass Lowell in the quarterfinals.

Queens has outscored opponents 595-98 in eight games this season. The Royals are averaging 74 points per game and have eclipsed the 100-point mark twice this season. Queens’ lone loss of the season came at the hands of Southern Virginia during a 33-28 defeat on Oct. 5.

Freshman Thomas Keay scored three tries in the Royals’ win over UMass Lowell. Classmate Carson Green went 8 of 10 on conversions to bring his team-leading conversion total to 35 on the season. Freshman Devon McCarthy had three tries in the victory over Lehigh.

Queens clinched the Cardinals Collegiate Rugby Conference championship with a 4-0 record. The Royals secured a 51-28 win over the University of Virginia on Oct. 26. Queens won the CCRC automatic bid to the USA Rugby Tournament. Queens finished fourth last year in its first USA Rugby Division II Final Four appearance.

“The team is looking forward to representing Norwich University, its community, and Scrum Alums, with pride this upcoming weekend at the Final Four,” Weggler said. “In any sport it takes time for any team to mesh into one unit. We are getting close to reaching that point. Our plan is to play as one unit, preparing to get better in each repetition. No excuses, take ownership and be accountable in all we do on and off the pitch.”

UW-Whitewater has been the class of the field for nearly a decade as the Warhawks search for their third 15s national championship. UW-Whitewater has been in the national championship five straight years, falling last year to North Carolina State to end its quest for a three-peat. The Warhawks beat the University of Vermont, 19-17, before securing a 31-24 quarterfinal victory over Memphis.

Missouri S&T makes its first Final Four appearance after beating Great Midwest Conference champion Illinois State, 13-10. The Red Birds handed UW-Whitewater its lone loss of the season in the GMC championship. The Miners won the Gateway Conference Championship with a 46-17 victory over Pittsburgh State. Missouri S&T defeated Montana State, 34-3, in the Sweet 16.

The two semifinal matches and the championship will be live video streamed on www.florugby.com with purchase of a monthly or yearly subscription. No video will be available for the consolation game.

(1) comment

William R Walsh

Norwich's ruggers are excellent young men with a deep respect for their school and the responsibilities that come with representing the institution.

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