M. Rugby Looks to Final Four

Sometimes, great things start in small ways.

Take this year's Harvard men's rugby club, for example. When it opened its season last fall with a last-second loss to Navy, the chances for a national championship seemed distant at best.

A little practice worked out the kinks, however, and by winning the Eastern Collegiate Championship five months ago, Harvard qualified as one of the final four teams in the hunt for the national title.

This weekend, that hunt will end.

The Crimson journeys to Houston, Tex., to duel U.C. Berkeley, Wisconsin, and Air Force for the bragging rights as the best college rugby team in the nation.

It's a moment that the players have all been waiting for eagerly.

"It was hard to keep up the enthusiasm for Houston for five straight months [after winning the Eastern Championship], but now we're definitely getting hungry again," junior Andrew Howard says.

Winning Harvard's first rugby national championship since the glory year of 1984, however, won't be easy. In the semifinals the Crimson are slated to hit U.C. Berkeley, which, despite its slide-rule-oriented reputation, boasts a "big, fast, strong, well-coached team," according to Harvard senior All-American Lauren Rose.

"They're definitely the toughest team at the championships," Rose says.

Berkeley's team enjoys varsity status, and that means it benefits from better training facilities, equipment and funding than its Harvard counterpart. Oh yeah, one more thing: The Golden Bears have won the national championship the last two years in a row.

Throw in the fact that Harvard will be missing junior starter Bob Jordan (leg injury) and probably Rose as well, and the difficulty of the challenge becomes clear. Of course, Harvard rugby wouldn't be Harvard rugby if it didn't accept the test head-on.

"They are definitely a beatable team," senior Monte Giese insists. "The most important thing for us is mental attitude."

Howard concurs. "We were struggling at the beginning of the spring season to integrate in some new players, but now we're doing a lot better. This weekend, it's just a matter of us wanting the ball enough."

To prepare for the effort ahead, the team has spent the last several weekends in tuneup games against various teams. After defeating season-long rival Navy in Annapolis two weekends ago, Harvard crushed a junior all-star team from Newfound-land last weekend, 48-0.

But tuneup time is over, and all will be decided this weekend when Harvard gets a taste of some May Madness.