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Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated Minnesota-Duluth 47-17 to capture the Belleville 7s tournament. With the win, the Warhawks join St. Louis University as qualifiers to USA Rugby’s Division II Nationals in Cary, NC.
The field at the Belleville 7s looked very much like a national championship. Whitewater, Duluth, and St. Louis University all made the final four last spring. Lindenwood-Belleville and Southern Illinois both took last year’s national champions, James Madison, to the brink recently. SIU nearly knocked out the Dukes in Iowa last year and the upstart varsity program nearly defeated James Madison at the Las Vegas 7s. Finally, Principia, who won the inaugural DII 7s title, is looking to get back to the top.
“The overall level of play was very high,” said Whitewater coach Matt Pederson. “Teams were really well prepared, very fit and you could tell that they all have been working together.”
Whitewater and Duluth both swept through pool play. The Warhawks defeated Belleville to get to the finals while the Fighting Penguins edged Principia. Whitewater and Duluth have been rivals over the recent years and have met in a number of finals. Duluth has had the edge in 15s play while Whitewater knocked Duluth out in the semifinals of last years 7s national championships.
Whitewater got the best of the Fighting Penguins once again in the finals. The Warhawks jumped out to a quick lead with a score in the opening moments. Freshman Shay Haase secured the next two restarts and within three minutes the Warhawks were up three scores.
“From there we were just on the front foot and were able to stay on the front,” Pederson added.
Duluth could not recover from the rough start and the talented back line from Wisconsin proved to be too much for the Minnesota side. Eric Pachowitz, Robbie Sindic and Chad Healey provide dynamic attacking options. Sindic, who plays in the forwards, is as or more athletic than most backs on the DII circuit. Pachowitz is arguably one of the best 15s fullbacks in the country and brings experience and skill to the side.
“Two of those three are on the field at all times and that kind of sets us up,” Pederson said of his trio of leaders.
For UWW, it is exciting to qualify for nationals, but the ultimate goal is a national title. The Warhawks have finished runner-up in 15s two years in a row and came up short against James Madison in last year’s 7s final.
“The boys are pretty motivated. I think the running song is no more second places. Two-second places in 15s and a second place in 7s in the last 18 months, they want that first. They don’t want to be the bridesmaid anymore,” Pederson concluded.