Forty-two colleges and high schools converged on Rosecroft Racetrack in Fort Washington, Md., for the 47th Annual Cherry Blossom Tournament last weekend. Men’s, boys’ and women’s teams from Canada to the Carolinas enjoyed two days of rugby just outside the nation’s capital.
Cherry Blossom veteran Miami University celebrated its first DI college title, topping Georgetown 29-3 in the final.
“The tournament keeps getting better and better,” claimed Miami coach Jared Moore. “The level of competition with teams like West Virginia, Towson and Kings Point this year just keeps getting better and better. East Coast rugby is looking good. I wish more Midwest teams would make this trip.”
The women from Pitt rolled to an impressive finale after defeating western Pennsylvania rival Slippery Rock 31-0 in the Cup semifinal, and then taking the trophy from UMass on a 46-19 win. Co-captains Cassandra Bartoch and Jessica Young credited fresh legs and teamwork for their dominance over the competition.
In the boys’ high school division, eight of the 10 teams hailed from Canada, and they all drove 11 or so hours to make the event. Brantford Collegiate Institute, a 1,200-student high school from Ontario, sent two sides, both of which advanced to the Cup and Bowl finals. Moire Secondary, another Canadian school, took home the Cup with a 7-6 win over BCI. For these northern visitors, it was the first outdoor playing time they have seen this spring.
“It’s good, solid, tough rugby here,” said Moire coach Duane Lambert. “It’s really physical, that’s what we’re finding. That’s what our guys like, and it’s what they need. It’s so early in our season; this is like a good tune-up.”
English referees Del Stevens and Andrew Crosin of the East Midlands Referees Society traveled even farther to be at the Cherry Blossom Tournament. They were on a 12-day exchange program arranged by the Potomac Referees Society. The men were scheduled to officiate a variety of matches ranging from high school and college, to local men’s and women’s clubs. Both referees commented on the growth of women’s rugby in the USA as compared with Great Britain.
“The biggest difference between rugby here and at home is the greater participation of the women,” said Stevens. “In the U.K. we struggle to see women take up the sport and that’s clearly not a problem you are having here.”
When asked the usual question about the level of rugby in the USA compared to England, Stevens offered, “With the increase in high school and college the general standard of the game is getting better every time I’ve been over. On a day like today when you’ve got so many teams out and everybody wants to play, it’s a tremendous thing and to be admired.”
The foreigners were two of 20 officials at Cherry Blossom, and Head Referee Dale Hensley managed them all. They did an excellent job of keeping the games on time, which is a hallmark of a well-run tournament.
Another hallmark is the event leadership, and Koki Mori has run the tournament for the Washington RFC for the past six years. He played in the tournament when he was in high school and college and now is a member of the host club. Mori handles everything from checking CIPP rosters, to creating the schedule, to communications with each individual club. Club members rally to Mori’s side, painting and maintaining the five pitches across the infield of the racetrack. In the club's 50 years of existence, Washington RFC has hosted the tournament 47 times.
“It’s a great opportunity to promote rugby in the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Mori. “The West Coast may get all the attention but these 40 teams are here to let them know there is good rugby on the east coast.”
Men’s Plate: Towson 31-3 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Women’s Plate: Syracuse 17-0 UConn
Boys HS Plate: Bishop Hendricken 26-7 Quinte
Men’s Bowl: American 28-7 George Washington
Women’s Bowl: Cornell 12-7 Binghamton
Boys HS Bowl: Hampton 15-7 Brantford Collegiate B