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A season’s worth of blood and sweat comes down to this weekend to decide the USA Rugby Division II National Champion at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. The first of the two semifinals will be played at John S. Roberts Rugby Pitch at 1pm between #3 Towson and #2 UW-Whitewater. Both teams have endured long tough roads to get to the Final Four and have one more step to reach the National Championship on Sunday.
Towson, the champions of the Potomac Rugby Conference, return to their third Final Four in four years as a senior-led squad looks to make an impact. The Tigers employ a balanced game that features both the forwards and the backs. However, the strength of the club is the nine fifth-year seniors, who bring their experience, leadership and skill to each game.
The Tigers will rely on the efforts of No. 8 Nick DiPietro, wing forward Anthony Bria, the center tandem of John Schuberth and Brian Shields to make highlight reel tackles and game-breaking runs. DiPietro is great in the lineouts, Bria is the top tackler on the team, and the Schuberth/Shields duo brings a solid all-around game to the backs.
The player to watch on Saturday is scrumhalf Eric Sweeney. According to head coach Don Stone, Sweeney is one of the best players he has ever coached and is the best scrumhalf in the country. With a great foot and high rugby IQ, Sweeney has been Towson’s player of the season and was the MVP of the Potomac Rugby Conference Playoffs.
With the only blemish on their 11-1 record being a regular season loss to Salisbury, Towson has been on a roll this season. After knocking off Georgetown and Mount St. Mary's during the regular season, The Tigers encountered their familiar foe, Salisbury, in the conference final. In a game for the ages, Towson won its first ever PRU title winning, 13-10, and advanced to the National Playoffs.
In the Round of 16, Towson blew Coast Guard out of the water, 36-12, and were tested by Rowan in the Elite Eight. The Tigers managed to survive a seven-try barrage by Rowan to win 44-41 and advance to the championship semifinal. Stone said it was “our experience and senior leadership is the reason for our success,” and that’s what has brought them back to the Final Four.
As for this Saturday against UW-Whitewater, Coach Stone knows what to expect from a potent club like the Warhawks. “We played Whitewater a couple of years ago and were down by a try at the half,” Stone said. “We know we can compete with them. They have outstanding backs and a lot of speed. We are going to have to play good defense and maintain possession of the ball.”
After missing out on the National Championship last year against Minnesota-Duluth, the Warhawks are back once again reloaded and ready to finish the job. Playing a fast-paced and open style, UW-W wants to get the ball out quick to the backs and their flowing forwards. Team President Eric Pachowitz believes “the leadership of our team, as well as, the combination of experience and athleticism has brought us to the Final Four. We have taken many players with little to no experience and turned them into great players for us.”
Some of the those great players include Robby Sindic, Eric Pachowitz, Jack Healy, Garrett Shibilski, and Alec Treuthardt. Sindic, a 2014 All-American, uses space very well to make incredible line breaks and Pachowitz’s specialty is to suck in defenders putting away wings for tries. Healy commands the backs and the forwards from the flyhalf position to control the tempo of the game and Shibilski attacks the ball as the hooker and is terrific tackler and poacher. Lastly, Alec Treuthardt is lethal from anywhere on the field with great vision and is one of the most dynamic runners UW-W has ever had.
Emerging as the WIIL Champions over Lindenwood-Belleville, UW-W defeated Springfield College and Rhode Island to advance to the Final Four. The defining moment of the season was in the National Quarterfinal against Rhode Island. Leading by only three points with less the ten minutes left and down two players from yellows, Sindic charged down a kick and Treuthardt raced 50 meters for a try to secure the win. The effort by their core players in crunch time is the reason UW-W is returning to the Final Four this year.
With Towson in the way, Pachowitz said that the Warhawks are not going to overlook the opponent in front of them. “We know that Towson is very well-coached and organized. They are playing at a very high level. We expect a very high-energy match on Saturday.” As for the National Championship, Pachowitz added, “We will win because we are experienced, talented and determined. We know what it feels like to come up short and are focused to come back from South Carolina with different results from the past two years.”