It has been some time since consistent success has found its way to Michie Stadium at West Point. The Black Knights, still playing as an independent, continue to offer up one of the most beautiful football experiences in the United States on fall Saturdays, bit their success on the field, especially compared to their rivals in Annapolis, has been much more of a challenge. Keenan Reynolds gets national attention and Heisman and NFL consideration, while the Black Knights continue to try and find that winning combination if years ago.
However there is a rising contact sport where Army is excelling in, ad this weekend in Philadelphia before a national television audience they will get a chance to take another big step forward. That sport is rugby, the faster sevens version which will make its way to the Olympics in Rio this summer, and the event is the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships, where Army, a long with a host of other major colleges and universities who have caught the rugby bug (and that includes Navy) will see who will take the championship from defending Champion, the University of California.
The resurgence of rugby at Army comes at a time when the sport has moved to the varsity level, giving it the support, staffing and attention. Army, under Matt Sherman, completed the fall 15’s season with a top ten ranking and had a successful sevens run this spring, winning the Patriot League title. Included was a win over Navy, 27-22 win as Jake Lachina became the first Black Knight in program history to score four tries and 20 points in a game. All of which points toward even more mojo for this weekend.
“The Penn Mutual CRC offers our players a high level professional experience in a phenomenal venue against the best 7’s rugby programs in the country,” Sherman said. “It gives us a great opportunity for our aspiring players to elevate their game on a national stage.”
There are currently three former West Point players who played in the CRC who are now part of the WCAP (World Class Athlete Program). They are competing for the United States Olympic Rugby team and are in contention to become Olympic athletes in 2016. The goal is to help use rugby as a way to develop even more Olympic-quality athletes at West Point for the future.
On the pitch, in addition to the speedy Lachina, Sherman points Jake Banarhall, Andrew Borer and Luke Heun as players to watch for the over 30,000 that will be on hand at Talen Energy Stadium this weekend. “I think our greatest strength as a team is that all players can step up and deliver in any given game, and we will count on all 12 to do so to be at our best in the CRCs,” added Sherman.
Adding even more to the excitement this weekend is the fact that the trophy for the overall winner is named after West Point legend and Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins, who will be on hand this weekend. What Reynolds meant to Annapolis the past few years, is what Dawkins, who also played rugby in England, meant to the Corps of Cadets as well. “I had the privilege of meeting Pete Dawkins recently at an Army Athletics Hall of Fame event,” Sherman said.
“I was thrilled to meet him, not only because of his Heisman winning accolades on the football field, but as a former Oxford University player myself I’d heard numerous stories about his legendary rugby days playing for the Dark Blues. He remains an avid follower and fan of the sport, and is also excited at our return to the CRC.”
Excitement, national stage and a title on the line in a fast rising sport. It may not be football just yet, but in rugby, the close cousin to the gridiron, Army is rising quickly.