CEDARVILLE, Ohio — On a day that many didn’t think would happen — including the players themselves — the University of Rio men’s rugby program finally kicked off its Spring 7’s season last Saturday at Cedarville University.
The first-year RedStorm program, which saw its head coach resign and a number of players defect after a successful fall campaign, went 1-2-1 on the weekend in tourney play.
As a part of Group B, Rio found itself up against an old foe in Kenyon University, whom they had played during the Fall 15’s season, along with Taylor University and Wabash University.
With a young squad made up of players from the 15’s squad and four players (three from the wrestling team and one from the soccer team) making their rugby debuts, the RedStorm was looking to make an impression from the get-go.
The opening contest against Kenyon started as a tight affair with both sides not giving too much away.
Rio broke the deadlock with freshman Gavin Berejana (Dedado, Guam) making history by scoring Rio’s first try in 7’s rugby. A successful conversion from freshman Devon Scriber (Colorado Springs, CO) gave the RedStorm a 7-0 lead.
Kenyon forged a 7-7 halftime tie, but Rio broke through the gainline again in the second half with freshman Christopher Gates (Charlotte, NC) tapping a quick penalty and going himself to touch down for Rio’s second try of the day and a 12-7 lead with two minutes on the clock.
A mix up on a referee’s call during some great counter rucking by Scriber allowed Kenyon to break free unopposed and touch down for their second try in the closing moments. With a missed conversion attempt, the referee blew full time leaving the game tied at 12 apiece.
In game two against Taylor, Spanish soccer convert Alberto Gonzalez Del Rio made a suberb hit on the opening kickoff only for the referee to deem it a high tackle and issue a yellow card.
Down to six men for the next two minutes, Rio showed some great defensive work to keep Trojans at bay.
But with numbers back to seven, freshman Che Spiotti (Charlotte, NC) showed a brilliant piece of skill and pace, racing away to open the scoring for the RedStorm and succesfully converting his own score for a 7-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, some great handling play allowed for sophomore Nomaan Ahmad (Torrance, CA) to increase Rio’s lead to 12-0 with a nicely worked five-point try.
Again, some scrappy play at the scrum allowed the ball to slip out on the Taylor side and with quick hands the Trojans were able to score in the corner and drawn within 12-5.
Some dazzling individual pick up skills and pace from the kickoff led to Gates scoring Rio’s third successful try under the post and a subsequent successful convert pushed the Rio lead to 19-5 going into the final minute.
Taylor did manage to score again in the closing seconds, but a failed conversion resulted in the final whistle, giving Rio its first-ever win in a 7’s tournament.
Game three proved to be Rio’s toughest contest of the day. The RedStorm faced Wabash University, which has been a powerhouse in collegiate 7’s rugby in recent years.
While the game itself resulted in a final score of 20-0 in favor of Wabash, the victors knew they had been in a physical encounter with the RedStorm, who gave a good account of themselves considering their expeirence level.
Having finished second overall in Group B, Rio’s fourth game of the day was a Third/Fourth place playoff against Tiffin University.
The Dragons raced to a 7-0 lead within the first two minutes and a costly mistake by the Redstorm on the ensuing kickoff resulted in a loose pass which allowed Tiffin to increase its advantage to 12-0 at halftime.
Rio Grande came out in the second half determined to finish the day with a sense of pride and its efforts were not in vain with Spiotti scoring and converting his own try to get the RedStorm within 12-7 in the closing minutes.
Unfortunately, that’s how things would end up.
“While the weather gave us all four seasons in one day, the experience and learning curve from this first-ever outing in 7’s rugby will only stand to help us prepare for our next tournament in two weeks time in Wabash, Indiana,” said Rio interim head coach Adrian Pilkington.
Pilkington also wished to note that two Rio players — freshman Owenn Meyer (Filer, ID) and sophomore Kiah Smith (Millfield, OH) — also lined out for Ohio Northern University due to a shortage of players.
Meyer scored for ONU.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.