By Jeff Nations
Stuart Freakley makes no bones about it -- today's men's rugby match against Mount St. Mary's will likely be the toughest the Lions have every played in their program history.
Toughest, and biggest -- Lord Fairfax is hosting today's 1 p.m. match in the school's first-ever appearance in the National Small College Rugby Association (NSCRO) national playoffs. The winner of today's Mid-Atlantic South (Region 2) qualifier will advance to the NSCRO's "Sweet 16" (March 29-30) in Jacksonville, Fla.
The winner there, the Region 2 champion, will move on to the Final Four set for April 26-27 in Glendale, Colo.
First though, there is the matter of Mt. Saint Mary's for the Lions -- the Mount are currently ranked No. 13th in the nation by the NSCRO, while Lord Fairfax is rated No. 18. The Mount, members of the Potomac Rugby Union, went unbeaten in conference play.
"We're going to face a tough opponent," said Freakley, who serves as head coach of the Lord Fairfax men's squad. "It's going to be a tough match, probably the toughest match we've ever had."
Lord Fairfax has proven capable of handling difficult opponents in its brief history as a program. Since Freakley and LFCC head rugby coach Aaron Painter got the program up and running back in the spring of 2011, the school has made amazing strides in the sport.
After just missing out on the NSCRO national playoffs last year -- the first full season of competition -- by losing a head-to-head tiebreaker with Christopher Newport University, the Lions took it to another level this season. As new members of the six-team Cardinal Collegiate Conference, Lord Fairfax promptly won the conference and state championship (Virginia D-III) by beating top-seeded Hampden-Sydney 21-17 on Nov. 16, 2013.
That victory qualified Lord Fairfax for the national playoffs, and was the last match the program had played before the Lions prepared to return to their home field behind campus for today's match. Lord Fairfax is the first community college to ever qualify for the NSCRO national playoffs. The Lions won a coin flip for the right to host today's match.
"We've been practicing as we can," Freakley said. "If the weather lets us -- we've had some snow days -- but we've been trying to practice up to three times a week."
The Lions compiled a 5-2 record, including a 5-1 mark in the Cardinal Conference, and will be a full strength for today's match, which features free admission for spectators.
"We're pretty much the same roster to a man," Freakley said. "We've had some continuity from last semester to this semester, so we're in good shape."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>