Sevens rugby is harsh in any situation, but in the format of the just-completed Men’s Collegiate Championships, it was even harsher.
Consider Cal, which finished 2-1 and lost to eventual champions Arkansas State by three, 10-7. Consider San Diego State, Lindenwood, or Northeastern, all 2-1 but undone by points difference.
So, too, was Dartmouth, but they garnered consolation not claimed by the others, as they won all three Saturday games to take the pool. They did with without a truly big body up front, or a tall restart-winner, or a blazing speedster – although Madison Hughes is plenty fast.
They did it, with teamwork.
“We know we lost a few guys from the team from last year” said Parker Gilbert, who assumed the captaincy after former US Marine Michael Burbank was ruled to be too old. “We didn’t get o0ff to the start we wanted agai9nst Navy who have proven to be a very good side in this tournament, but we’re really happy with the way we’ve built. We improved on our structure throughout the tournament and really came together.”
Dartmouth were 2-1 on Friday. After dropped a 21-10 decision to Navy in the first round they reeled off victories over Air Force 40-12, and Cal Poly 12-10. Hughes was electric and kicked superbly, while the rest of the players, Rex Littlefield, Kevin Clark, Gilbert, and Tyler Moragne among them, worked together well.
That 2-1 record wasn’t good enough to be among the best second-place teams, as Kutztown and Texas A&M had much better point differentials. But on Saturday, they beat Wisconsin, Cal Poly again, and in the Bowl Final, San Diego State to garner the Bowl and a 5-1 record on the weekend.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” said Gilbert, who scored Dartmouth’s two tries in that loss to Navy. “One of the things we wanted to show is that Dartmouth is a strong program, not just a year-to-year team. We’ve got a lot of talent coming up.”
Indeed they do. New Head Coach Gavin Hickie said his team is heavily underclassmen, and “the best news is most of these guys are back next year. I am very proud of what they did.”
Leading the way, though, for this repeatedly underrated team, is Hughes. The MVP of the 2012 CRC, and of the Junior World Rugby Trophy, Hughes was a points machine. He is short but powerfully-built, sees space well, and can run. Oh, and he can kick, too. His five tries and 13 conversions added up to 51 points in just six games. He will be one to continue to watch, and at 5-1 his past weekend, so should Dartmouth.