Lord Fairfax Community College’s men’s rugby team faces a daunting task in this weekend’s Cardinals Collegiate Rugby Conference Division III tournament at the University of Richmond.
LFCC, the third seed in this year’s four-team tournament, finds itself surrounded by teams that dropped down from the Division II level this season, as the Lions are joined by top seed University of Mary Washington, No. 2 Duke University and No. 4 Richmond.
Repeating as champions of the Cardinals Conference tournament and earning a chance to qualify for the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) “Sweet 16” certainly seems like a tall task for LFCC, but that’s how the Lions would prefer it.
“I think we’re definitely excited. We do like to be considered the underdogs. That gives us a little bit more passion to work harder,” LFCC head rugby coach Aaron Painter said Thursday. “… We go out there all the time and our main goal is to at least earn respect from the teams.”
The Lions (6-2) open the CCRC tournament semifinals Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. contest against Duke, and would advance to Sunday’s championship game against the Mary Washington-Richmond winner with a victory.
The conference champion advances to the NSCRO mid-Atlantic region qualifying match next weekend in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where they will face the runner-up from the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union for a shot at joining the NSCRO’s 16-team playoff field in March.
Duke handed LFCC its second loss of the regular season last Saturday, though the Lions opted to rest most of their regular players ahead of the 72-3 defeat because the CCRC tournament seedings were already finalized.
“They beat us pretty easily but we went there with a different strategy,” Painter said. “We went out there to try to get our reserve players as much practice time in case they had to go in for this weekend.
“They kind of showed us their hand. But we’ll see if the strategy worked out. We’ll find out on Saturday if we chose the right path or not.”
Painter said Duke played its regulars in last weekend’s match, which allowed the Lions to get a good look at what they will surely see again on Saturday.
“They’ve got a lot of speed on their loose back three, their fullback and wings,” Painter said of Duke. “They like to go into contact. On their lineouts they play almost like a 7 style with their forwards, meaning that they have a three-man lineout and they just try control and create gaps, overlaps off the three-man line.”
LFCC — whose only other loss this season came to James Madison University’s A-reserves/B team — is eying a return to the NSCRO playoffs for the second straight season. The Lions, who have only been competing on the rugby pitch since 2011, became the first community college to qualify for the NSCRO tournament last season.
LFCC was beaten the first round of the NSCRO tournament in the spring, but the Lions will have a chance to build on last season’s success if they can survive the conference tournament this weekend.
“Our main goal would just be to make sure we play our game and not get sucked into the other teams and start playing theirs because if we play their game it’s not going to be good for us,” Painter said. “If we can stay focused and play what we trained to, then I think we’re going to have a pretty good shot.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com