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On the final day of the DII USA Rugby 7s national championships, Minnesota-Duluth knocked off rival Wisconsin-Whitewater and St. Louis University to win the title. The Fighting Penguins were the first ever team to win both the DII 15s title and the DII 7s title in the same school year.
Like the DI, USA Rugby moved up the semifinals by a few hours due to the threat of inclement weather. The semifinal matchups featured the winners of pool A and B, Whitewater and Duluth, respectively, and a rematch between 1st and 2nd place in pool C, Lindenwood-Belleville and SLU.
After LU-Belleville thumped St. Louis on Saturday to take pool C, St. Louis responded with a strong start in the semifinals. The Billikens went up two tries in as many minutes before the Lynx cut the lead in half midway through the first stanza. SLU got the first two tries of the second half, capped off by the second of the game by Ryan Guercio. The Lynx fought back with two scores late, but ran out of time, giving SLU the 26-21 victory.
Duluth got off to a strong start against its rivals to the East. Zachary Schwartz scored a pair of tries in the first half and picked up the hat trick right at the start of the second to give the Fighting Penguins a 17-0 lead. The Warhawks got one back almost immediately but could not break the Duluth line again finishing the game at 17-7.
Minnesota-Duluth ran away with the final after the first two minutes. The Fighting Penguins got on the board first by going through the hands right. Trace Bolstad was the recipient of a nifty one handed offload for the first score of the game. SLU answered back after a dummy pass created a gap. The Billikens found Guercio and the tall speedster evened the game at 5-5. The rest of the match was all Duluth, however. The Fighting Penguins scored four more tries form three try scorers including two from Luc Desroches. In the end, the size and speed of UMD proved too much for SLU and the match ended 31-5.
“The last couple games that we played in the tournament against Whitewater and against SLU. We kept control of the ball most of the games. When of those teams had the ball, defense was great, we were aggressive at the breakdowns…and ball retention was great,” said UMD coach Jeramy Katchuba.
Coming into the tournament, UMD was a rare non-favorite. The Fighting Penguins had done well in prior tournaments but had not played at this level until this weekend.
“The team really exceeded my expectations. We kind of put it all together this weekend. We played in a few tournaments but this is by far the best that we have played,” added Katchuba. It has been an incredibly successful few years for UMD. After winning three consecutive 15s national titles, Duluth finally got its first 7s title.
“It is an incredible accomplishment,” Katchuba said of winning both 15s and 7s in the same season. “I am lucky to be a part of the program. We are definitely growing and we put a little more focus on 7s. Last spring we tried to put a 15s team and a 7s team but we just committed everything to 7s this spring. It proved that we are not just a 15s program.”