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Life won its first-ever major tournament title last week, claiming top billing at USA Rugby’s College 7s National Championships in Cary, N.C., and the Running Eagles backed it up Sunday, winning the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. In both tournaments, Lindenwood stood in their way in the final. Sunday, they beat the Lions 19-10.
“It is just absolutely exciting,” said Life head coach Rosalind Chou. “We love the competition, both weekends, just being challenge to really test our mettle, and we really appreciate all the great teams that we’ve played, and it’s just great to see our hard work pay off.”
No matter what game or how many minutes in, the Running Eagles never kept running, displaying superior fitness all weekend. Even in second half of the final when captain Nicole Strasko picked up a yellow card, she had the fortitude to make her way to the sin bin at a dead sprint.
“In addition to being very physically fit, we’re very mentally strong to push through even if their bodies are tired,” said Chou. “[Strasko’s] the most mentally strong player I think I’ve seen at the collegiate level, and she just knows how to do her job and leads the troops really well.”
The yellow card didn’t hurt Life in the final, as the game was already in hand, but Strasko did plenty of damage to other teams all weekend. When a teammate made a long break but couldn’t go all the way, it was often Strasko streaking in support to take the offload. She was rewarded with the tournament MVP award.
“We put ourselves to the test and we did really well and we couldn’t have done it without our coaches and staff and teammates side by side pushing each other,” Strasko said.
Also big for the Running Eagles was Megan Rom, who handed out a lot of monster handoffs throughout the competition. A loosehead prop in 15s, she is a bruising runner.
“She is a train,” said Strasko of Rom. “She’s someone to reckon with, and I’m really glad that she’s on my team.”
“She came to me her freshman year and said, ‘By my senior year I want to be good enough to make the CRC team,’” added Chou. “She’s just a sophomore now, and she’s just worked her butt off and increased her fitness and she’s a threat with the ball in hand, because it takes several people to tackle her. I couldn’t be more pleased with her fitness, commitment and strength.”
Both Chou and Strasko credited strength and condition coach Kimberly Knipe for the team’s astounding fitness. She pushed the team in more ways than one.
“We talk about a distinct type of fitness we have at our program, and we have a great strength and conditioning coach in Kimberly Knipe, and she’s always challenging them both mentally and physically to prepare for any kind of obstacle,” said Chou. “In addition to being very physically fit, we’re very mentally strong to push through even if their bodies are tired.”
“Our bodies can do a lot more than what we think we can do, and by always talking to the person next to you, lifting them up, saying you can do this, you can do this, that’s what really pushes us and drives us.”