GLENDALE, CO – Not only was this past weekend the College Rugby Championships for Rugby 7s, where Short Matt was grabbing all the game’s biggest names and which University of California won, but it was also the Division III National Championships for rugby union as well. There was a team from my hometown in the Final Four this weekend, the Saratoga Stampede. The Stampede finished in third place, but had a great ride.
Here’s my story on them, which originally appeared in The Daily Gazette of Schenectady:
GLENDALE, CO – A local rugby team took its talents to Colorado this coming weekend — no, not permanently, but for the final stage of the Division III National Championships.
“To have a chance to win a national championship is huge,” said Jerry Jerome, player/coach for the Saratoga Stampede Rugby Football Club. “Now we have the chance to prove that we’re the best Division III team in the country.”
After winning the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) league championship last fall, Saratoga qualified for its first appearance in the Emirates Airlines Division III National Championships. The team qualified for the Sweet 16 Round of the National Championships on May 18-19 in Virginia Beach, Va.
The Stampede have been training since January and began playing games in April in preparation for their trip to Virginia. After defeating the Philadelphia Whitemarsh in the Round of 16 on May 18 and Hilton Head, S.C., in the Round of Eight the following day, the Stampede have played their way into the Division III National Championships Final Four in Glendale, Colo.
The Stampede had the Oceanside Chiefs of Oceanside, Calif., this on Saturday, with the other side of the Final Four bracket featuring another New York-vs.-California match-up with Belmont Shore and New York’s Old Blue. In a hard match, the Chiefs dodged the Stampede often enough to win 38-26 in a high-scoring affair… The next day, however, the Saratoga boys regrouped and beat Belmont Shore, 40-28. The championship game will be played on Sunday.
The Saratoga Stampede have paved their way to success in a short period of time. The team was founded in November 2005, joining NERFU in 2007 as a social team (not affiliated with a division playing a more relaxed style of rugby.) After a year as a social team in the NERFU, the Stamped joined NERFU’s competitive Division IV in 2008. After two years of success in Division IV, the team moved into the NERFU Division III.
“It’s a huge step forward for our program,” said Jerome. “In our first season in Division IV, I don’t think we won a game. Now we’re in the Division III Final Four and next year we’ll be in Division II.”
With the recent success for the Stampede, Jerome hopes his team will now be feared by other teams in the Capital Region.
“In the Capital Region, the teams we play against, they’re going to be saying that we’re for real,” said Jerome. “No matter if we come in first, second, third or fourth in the Final Four.”
When the Stampede was created, coaches would be lucky to have 17 players show up. Now the team has upwards of 40 players dressed for a game. The roster includes players ranging from Albany to Queensbury and five international players.