Salve Regina, Longwood, Ithaca and Occidental. These names sound familiar to you? You're not alone, as these colleges are representing the final four teams left to play in the National Small Colleges Rugby Organization (NSCRO) tournament.
In cities ranging from Los Angeles to Newport, these small colleges will face off tomorrow in Virginia to see who will lock up the spots for their national championship.
"This tournament gives smaller schools an opportunity to compete with other small schools," Occidental fullback Mitchell Grummon said. "This is the first time, in a long time, our team has had national success and it means a lot to us."
For Occidental and Ithaca, this will not only be their first time in the national spotlight, but also the first match playing against one another. Occidental's success can be attributed to a whole commitment from their players to compete and push each other.
"When there is intense competition in practice and the idea that no starting role is locked, this forces the guys to work," Grummon said. "The key to our success has been the desire of each player, starter or not, to want to win." Grummon and flyhalf Barnaby Audsley must maintain their accuracy with kicking and keeping the territory game in their favor. Winger Joey Maloney will be looking to maintain his streak of clutch tries and prop Johnny Ni must be a monster on the defensive end.
"Occidental is a strong program with a long history of playing quality rugby," Ithaca head coach Annemarie Farrell said. "This week we spent time on turf and dedicated ourselves to making good decisions and finding the right balance of physicality and discipline."
With Ithaca, the recipe for their early success has been approaching the pitch with a balanced attack. Throughout the fall, the speed and explosiveness of the backline was key. Playing in the wet spring conditions, the forward pack has been the motor to carry them through the muddy conditions.
On the other side of the bracket is a showdown of familiar foes, Longwood and Salve Regina. Salve Regina is back in the tournament after a year of absence and is looking improve on their 4th place finish. To do so, they must not only rely heavily on a speedy backline with flyhalf Paul Schacter and inside center Quinn Turner, but go through Longwood, the team that beat them last year.
"This game will be just another game," Schacter said. "We treat it like a fresh start and we're here to win it."
Small college? Perhaps by strict definition. But in terms of excitement, commitment and dedication there’s nothing at all small about this tournament.
Winners will play Sunday to determine the NSCRO national champion.