Rugby falls short in conference championship

Adam Knorr

As the former New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The Grand Valley State University men’s rugby team knows the feeling all too well. The GVSU players laced up their cleats in Detroit on Saturday morning and took to the pitch against Kent State University in the Great Lakes Conference Championship with a trip to the national championships on the line.

It was familiar territory for the Lakers, who were making their fourth consecutive trip to the conference championship. They had fallen short in their last three appearances.

GVSU was able to move the ball up and down the field, but they failed to capitalize beyond sophomore lock Thomas Strandquist’s try and, for the fourth straight year, hung up their spikes sooner than desired.

“I was really looking forward to this game and thought it was going to go a different way,” senior eightman Dave Giese said. “We had opportunities to score that really would’ve changed the dynamic of the game, but we never took off. (Kent State) is a really tough team, and they played hard the entire match. It’s disappointing to go out this way.”

GVSU appeared to have the edge early on as Australian import Todd Dunwoody split the uprights on a penalty kick, propelling the Lakers to a quick 3-0 lead. But after a few minutes of back-and-forth play, Kent State touched down the game’s first try.

The Golden Flash failed to convert the kick following the touchdown but held on to a 5-3 lead.

GVSU struck back toward the end of the half, as Strandquist capped off a methodical drive, spinning into the try zone to give the Lakers an 8-5 lead.

The team opened the second half with a slightly altered lineup after losing sophomore center Dylan Bergbower and junior outside center Jared Preston to injury in the first. Kent State capitalized on the changes, controlling the ball and the flow of the game.

GVSU’s defense remained stingy on the try line, as Kent State crossed into the try zone more than once but was unable to tally points as the Lakers refused to let the ball touch down. Kent State was finally able to punch one in, crossing the try line and diving down to take a 10-8 lead before it quickly put up another try to grab a 15-8 advantage.

The Lakers had a late chance to tie the game but turned the ball over after taking a penalty deep in Kent State territory. Following the turnover, Kent State ripped off an 80-meter try, effectively putting the final nail in the coffin that was the Lakers’ season and taking the championship game 20-8.

“I felt like we played really hard and smart, but the game just came down to that last push that they had,” junior lock Pat Hart said. “We lost a couple of very strong, talented players… We were both very fair and very fast, and really it just came down to a couple mistakes that ended up costing us the game.”

The Lakers produced their lowest offensive output in a Division II game this season by a large margin. Kent State suffocated GVSU’s offense and held the Lakers to a miniscule eight points, far below the Division II season average of 52 points per game.

“It wasn’t really a shootout like we’re used to. It was more of a slow game,” GVSU sophomore wing Colin Dekam said. “We’re a fast team that likes to outpace other teams, but we got slowed down today.”