The Thunder Chickens have been there before, but this time is special.
Principia University is gearing up for yet another run at the USA Rugby Men's D2 College Sevens championship; they won the tournament in 2013 and are looking to log a second title in Tucson, AZ this weekend.
In recent years, the school has finished as the Plate winner several times and is always a top contender at nationals. But more than that, this year will be special as longtime head coach Ward Patterson is hanging up the whistle.
After 18 years coaching college rugby at Principia and, before that, Middlebury (where he was a national D2 15s champion), Patterson is moving into an advisory role with the program. Still, they are taking one more shot at nationals.
“I have been fortunate to win some big games and coach some awesome kids in my time here. It will not be easy as Principia has been a big part of my life but it is the right time in my life to pass the reigns to somebody else,” Patterson said.
The small school based out of St. Louis has a student population of 520 and would be considered small even for National Small College Rugby Organization standards. However, due to geographic reasons and the ability to stay competitive, the squad has remained in D2.
“We have a history of punching above our weight and being able to compete with the best in D2,” added Patterson. “The beauty of sevens is that each team can only put seven players on the field at a time so the size of the school becomes irrelevant.”
The secret to Principia’s success isn’t rooted in recruiting talented rugby players. In fact, nobody on the team played rugby prior to attending the college. Their success is based on the ability to take talented athletes and turn them into rugby players.
Key playmakers on the team include the halfback combo of Scott Marunde and Zeya Kyaw. The upperclassmen combo along with wing Tre Goodman and prop Rob McAloney make Principia a tough team to defend against.
The wildcard for Principia will be the freshman Alex Parrish. The nearly 300-pound forward is not your conventional sevens player, but he is an effective runner and learning the game very quickly.
Despite it being the last go for coach Patterson, the team is taking this tournament like any other. They are looking to play their best rugby and play the game the right way. At the end of the day that is the legacy that Patterson wants most.
“I don’t know if we will win the event but I do know that we will give it all we have and play the game the right way," concluded the coach. "Anything can happen and another ring would blow my mind with gratitude.”