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2011 News Releases

Longwood men’s rugby team wins national championship

May 4, 2011

Longwood Men's Rugby Team (2011)
Longwood men's rugby team and fans after the national championship

The Longwood University's men's rugby team has won the national championship.

The squad captured the national title in Men's College Division III of USA Rugby by defeating Occidental College of California, 36-27, on May 1 in Virginia Beach. Some 138 colleges and universities from across the country compete for the national championship at this level, which has no connection with Division III in NCAA-sanctioned intercollegiate athletics.

The championship game was played the day after the semifinal game, also played in Virginia Beach, in which Longwood defeated Salve Regina University, which had been ranked #1 in the nation, 31-19. Those two games were part of the Final Four, similar to the Final Four in the national college basketball tournament. The Longwood men's rugby team had twice made it to the Final Four, losing in the national semifinals in 2009 and 2007, but had never won the national championship.

The Longwood squad, undefeated during its regular season last fall, first won the state championship last November (winning both games), then won the regional championship in March (winning all three games), then advanced to the Final Four by winning two games in April that correspond to the "Sweet 16" and "Elite Eight" rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament.

"After last fall, the team made it a goal to win the national championship, and they worked really, really hard," said Dr. John Graham, associate professor of computer science, who coaches the men's and women's rugby teams. "They were dedicated to it. They cut their spring break short and came back early to play a playoff game."

Graham was treated to a Gatorade "bath" after the championship game, and the players participated in their post-game ritual of posing shirtless for a team photo. About 500 Longwood fans, including local alumni, attended the game, he said.

"Midnight Madness here on campus was the night we won the championship, and when we walked into the dining hall, all of the student body stood up and applauded," Graham said. "President Finnegan, who was there, shook hands with all of the players and high-fived them."

After capturing the regional championship, the team entered the national championship, beating Mount St. Mary's, 48-25, on April 2 in Farmville. On April 16 in Knoxville, Tenn., the Longwood team eliminated the University of West Florida, 31-17.

Earlier the team won the regional championship, of the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU), by defeating the College of New Jersey, the University of Delaware, and the University of Richmond. MARFU encompasses Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and southern Pennsylvania. The team won the state championship, of the Virginia Rugby Union (VRU), by beating Hampden-Sydney College and then the College of William & Mary. It was Longwood's third VRU title in the last five years.

"Among all the Virginia schools that play rugby in Division III, we have the smallest male enrollment of any of them except Hampden-Sydney," Graham said. "In our regular league season, we play them and William & Mary, Christopher Newport, the University of Richmond, Washington & Lee, and Roanoke College. We won 19 games and lost only two games all year: to VMI in the finals of the Todd Miller tournament on Feb. 26, and to Old Dominion in a pre-season game Feb. 5. Both VMI and ODU are Division II teams; we were 19-0 against Division III teams. We played four teams ranked in the Top 20 by USA Rugby and beat all of them. We beat Virginia Tech, and we beat VCU twice. We played 21 games, which is a lot of rugby."

The most valuable player (MVP) of the national tournament was Ben Smith, a Longwood freshman from Matoaca. Preston Leep, a senior from Richmond, was the team captain and this year's MVP. The second week in April he received the first Todd Miller Scholarship, named for a Longwood rugby player who died in March 2008 and established by Todd's mother, Ellie Miller. The scholarship recognizes a member of either the men's or women's team who has at least a 2.8 grade-point average and is of solid character and playing ability. This year's Todd Miller Tournament, which raises money for the scholarship, was the third annual tournament.

Rugby is a club sport at Longwood. It has been played at Longwood since 1979, although Graham, who came to Longwood in 2005, is the first coach. Even though Graham is retiring at the end of the spring semester, he will continue to coach the men's and women's teams.

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