Cal mauls its way to 5th straight Collegiate Rugby Championship title

Cal mauls its way to 5th straight Collegiate Rugby Championship title

CHESTER, Pa. — After nearly 14 hours of play over the course of Friday and Saturday, the stage was set for Championship Sunday at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships at Talen Energy Stadium.

With plenty of silverware to be handed out on a near-perfect afternoon, the only question left to be answered was which teams would be ending their 2017 campaigns as champions.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner
For the fifth straight year, the Pete Dawkins Trophy is headed back to Berkeley, California. The Golden Bears, who entered the weekend as the tournament's top seed, faced off against Life University in the Cup final — a rematch of the two sides' meeting from 2013, when Cal won its first title. Connor Sweet gave the Golden Bears a boost to close the first half with seven points at the horn before teammate Sam Cusano's try made it 12-0 midway through the second half.

The onslaught continued as Cusano added another score, pushing the Cal advantage to 19 points. And with the Running Eagle attack looking pretty much dead, Life was unable to get on the board, as the Golden Bears retained their crown yet again, 19-0.

The first trophy of the afternoon went to Life's women. After cruising to the women's Cup final, the Running Eagles blew past Lindenwood on their way to the title as Life scored 17 unanswered points following the Lions' first try. Although Lindenwood scored once again just before the final horn, it was not enough as the Running Eagles capped off their weekend with a 17-12 win.

After a hard-fought Plate final between Wisconsin and Dartmouth, everything came down to a kick. As time expired, Big Green scrum half Ollie Englehart barged in for a try that pulled Dartmouth to within a pair of the Badgers at 12-10. But the junior could not put the game-tying two-point conversion through the uprights, giving Wisconsin bragging rights in the second-tier bracket.

It was a Palmetto State clash in the men's Bowl final — Clemson and South Carolina met for the second time this season after the Tigers crushed the Gamecocks, 48-10, in the teams' late January matchup. This time around, though, it was a much more even affair as the teams traded leads throughout the match. Ultimately, South Carolina got the better of its in-state rival, 24-19.

Battle of the Golden Bears
In an early candidate for match of the day, it was a showdown between the two sets of Golden Bears on the men’s side — California and Kutztown. The teams did not meet last season but had faced off against one another each of the past three years at this same event, including twice in the title game.

This time, the Golden Bears met one another in the Cup Quarterfinals and once again, it was the West Coasters who wound up on top. Despite a Kutztown fan section that seemed to swell to close to 500 by match’s end, California jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first half before the locals got on the board just before halftime.

Cal donned its traditional navy blue and gold striped uniforms, but with the hashtag, #TryForPaylor, emblazoned across its chests. Entering the weekend, the Golden Bears had not played since May 6, when sophomore Robert Paylor was paralyzed from the waist down during a match against Arkansas State. Cal posted an update regarding Paylor's health on its Facebook page Friday.

Although Kutztown eventually cut the California advantage to just a pair with less than three minutes to play in regulation, a Zach Tavenner try salted the game away and sent Cal to a sixth consecutive CRC Rugby Sevens semifinal.

Living the good Life
Among the top programs in collegiate rugby — on both the men’s and women’s side of things — is Life University. The private university located just 30 minutes outside of Atlanta in Marietta, Georgia, boasts an enrollment of only about 700 undergraduates.

Although the Running Eagles compete in just a handful of sports at the NAIA level, their rugby programs and neon green uniforms have become the school’s identity. And despite a small student body, Life brought plenty of noise to Philadelphia.

With a couple hundred 20-somes clad in bright green visors and sunglasses filling the southwest corner of the stadium, the Running Eagles had easily the best supporters’ section of the day — one that could certainly match up with the Union’s Sons of Ben.

Fortunately, Life’s fans had plenty to cheer about this weekend. After routing their first four opponents by a combined score of 227-0, the Running Eagles’ women made quick work of Dartmouth, 26-5, en route to the Cup title game.

Life’s men fared equally well on the final day of competition. After a late try and conversion saved the Running Eagles from a Cup quarterfinal upset against St. Mary’s, Life eased its way into the Cup finals behind a late surge, winning 24-14.

Out with a whimper
There was little standing in the way of Penn State’s women during their first two days in Chester. The Nittany Lions held their opponents to just 10 total points in three pool-play games Friday and cruised into the Cup semifinals thanks to a 39-0 shutout of Bloomsburg Saturday.

But Sunday, Penn State was sent packing early. Facing Lindenwood, the Nittany Lions dug themselves an early hole, going down 10-0 before finally scoring their first points of the day to cut the Lions’ halftime lead to just three.

Trailing 20-14 late in the second half, Penn State took control of the ball for the final possession of the match. And although the Nittany Lions were within just a few feet of scoring the potential game-winner after the clock had hit all zeroes, a Penn State turnover ended the Nittany Lions’ once-promising tournament run.

For the locals
A number of Delaware Valley teams struggled Sunday, with just St. Joe’s earning a chance to play under the bright lights of the stadium field. The Hawks and their bearded beast of a coach, Dan Yarusso, picked up a 21-14 win against Keystone State rivals Penn State on the Academy fields but mustered only five points in their Plate semifinal loss to Wisconsin.

After going scoreless and winless Saturday, Temple showed a bit of offense Sunday morning against Clemson. Still, the Owls lost 14-12 and were eliminated early in the Bowl quarterfinals. And Delaware did no better, dropping their own Bowl quarter to South Carolina, 19-7.

In the women’s matches, Temple fell to Notre Dame, 21-5, in the Challenge final and the Lady Blue Hens suffered a 31-point shutout at the hands of the same Fighting Irish squad.

My all-name team
Duncan and Zander van Schalkwyk, Life

Harley Davidson, Life

Kina Malafu, Kutztown

Kendal McCracken, Lindenwood (women)

Noah Niumataiwalu, Saint Joseph’s

Dawit Workie, Dartmouth

Mid-match competition of the day
Even though Dartmouth’s teams finished the tournament with solid performances (the women lost in the Cup semifinals and the men came up just short in the Plate final), the Big Green’s best showing came from a pair of robots.

The Mobile Virtual Player, better known as MVP, is a robotic tackling dummy developed at the New Hampshire college used to help mimic moving opposition during practice. We didn’t get to see them put to their true use, but instead, fans were treated to the hilarity of young children chasing the dummies around the field.

Yes, the kids came away victorious, stealing a ball from each of the helpless dummies — but hey, maybe a war of man vs. robot is closer than we previously thought.

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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USA Today Images

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.