Dec 08, 2021
Its season already teetering after tough losses to Navy and Army to open the Rugby East season, St. Bonaventure had a hurdle to get over it had never cleared before: Penn State.
The hard-fought 19-15 win over the Nittany Lions — at State College — was the turning point in a season that’s been victorious ever since. Fittingly, the season has come full circle.
Winners of five in a row, the top-seeded Bonnies face No. 2 Penn State in the title game of the National Collegiate Rugby Division I Tournament at 7 p.m. EST Saturday at AVEVA Stadium in Houston, home to Major League Rugby’s Houston Sabercats.
The game will be streamed live on www.therugbynetwork.com. A campus watch party will be held at 7 p.m. at Walsh Auditorium; free pizza and soda will be served.
Donations from alumni and friends are still being sought (donate here) to help offset the prohibitive cost of the trip. This afternoon, the Keilman Family Foundation announced it will match contributions dollar for dollar, up to a total of $5,000, to support the team’s trip.
The Bonnies beat Kutztown, 27-15, and Penn State edged Queens University, 32-31, in the semifinal matches Dec. 4 at Reading, Pa.
Bonnies coach Tui Osborne admitted that the Penn State win was a huge psychological barrier to hurdle.
The program’s elevation five years ago to the highest division in collegiate rugby was a carefully plotted journey through recruitment and training to improve each year, but a win over a perennial rugby powerhouse had eluded the team — until Oct. 16.
“Oh, yeah, it was huge,” Osborne said, beaming as he recalled the moments after the win. “The guys were crying. Alex Chura was a freshman and starting for us three years ago, and to see the emotion on his face when we won was amazing. His speech to the team after was, ‘This is it guys. We’re on the up and let’s keep moving.’
“From then on, we believed. You see a leader like Alex do that, and suddenly everyone’s following suit. … Our entire leadership team has done a tremendous job in helping us move forward. The accountability this year has been amazing because of them. It’s been awesome to see.”
Osborne pointed to a handful of players who’ve been instrumental in helping the Bonnies reach the brink of a national tournament title.
- “Ethan Doumbe, a sophomore prop, has been playing out of his skin.”
- “Juan Pen, the other prop, his work rate in our last game was just phenomenal.”
- “The kicking boot of Keelin Coyle has really bolted us to help us get where we are; he’s so accurate and he’s reading the game well at fly-half.”
- “Greg Steffens. We’ve shifted him into a few different positions this year and he’s able to look at the game differently from each position and he just keeps delivering for us.”
- “Sebastiano Villani. We’ve moved him back and forth from scrum-half to fly-half and he really knows his positions.”
- “Matthew Conroy, another freshman. He’s one of the best players on the team right now, making 15, 16 hits a game, great decision making. He’s definitely one to watch for the next three years.”
But Osborne was quick to point out the Bonnies wouldn’t be headed to Houston without complete buy-in from every player on the team.
“The program asks a lot from all our guys and they’re delivering it with a smile, just everyone across the board,” Osborne said. “Everyone’s putting in a good shift when they’re training so when it comes game time, it’s a little bit easier for them because they’ve been working their butts off all week. Their work ethic has just become contagious.”
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. St. Bonaventure was named the #5 regional university value in the North in U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 college rankings edition.