Eckerd College is the newcomer to the final stage of this year’s USA Rugby DII College Spring Championship. Tulane University, Fresno State, Salisbury University – they’ve all competed in the spring semifinals before. But the Sirens aren’t simply going to acknowledge this berth to the spring final four as a program highlight but intend to leave the country with a good impression of the Florida school.
The team was not configured for success when head coach Mike Geibel first took over the team.
“My first year with the team, when I started coaching about mid-season, we were only getting 8-10 players at training, had to forfeit matches at halftime for lack of numbers after some women got injured. It wasn’t fun,” Geibel reflected. “We’ve come a long way from those days, and we’re all having a lot of fun now.”
Eckerd then advanced to the 2016, 2017 and 2018 spring regional championships, but went 0-6.
“Our goal all season has been to win a game at regionals,” Geibel noted. “Up to this point, we hadn’t ever even won the consolation match on Sunday, so getting the first one in team history was huge for us.”
Last Saturday, the Sirens beat George Washington 84-10 in the Spring Round of 16. The victory was particularly cathartic for two seniors who’ve played all four years – Kat Scheerer and Stasia Babicki. They’ve played through a lot of tough losses – perhaps the most heart-breaking being the two-point loss to Kennesaw State in 2018 – so the GW win was big.
Coastal Carolina had defeated William & Mary 20-17 to advance to the spring quarterfinals and kept pace with Eckerd during the first half (22-12 to the Sirens). The second half saw the Florida side pull away while holding Coastal Carolina scoreless. Outside center Scheerer accounted for 31 points, scoring five tries and kicking three conversions in the 53-12 win.
“Turning around and winning on Sunday was a big moment for the team and the school,” Geibel asserted. “There were a lot of tears from the veterans after the win over Coastal Carolina. I think it surprised a lot of the rookies. Players who have been on the team for more than just this year remember being beaten twice in Atlanta last year, and twice in South Carolina the year before that. They’ve used it as motivation all year long through long, hot days of training and tough matches.
“I think the seniors definitely were the most emotional,” the coach recounted post-game reactions. “They’ve given up a lot of their time to rugby, and now here we are in the home stretch before graduation and they are traveling on the weekends while their other friends outside of rugby are back on campus. It can be really hard on them being torn between the two. It’s been really emotional for me as well being my last year with the team.”
Geibel is moving to China to start and coach the Beijing Ducks’ women’s team.
Fortunately for Eckerd, the school, alumni, current students, faculty and staff have rallied around the team.
“We’re going to do an Instagram takeover on the school’s account and post live updates of the entire trip,” the coach detailed the external support. “The administration is helping us with transportation and lodging and other logistics. They have been very supportive the entire way. I think they can see in the students just how important this is to the players and the community as a whole.”
On May 3, this year’s Eckerd squad will attempt to extend its legacy into the spring final, but first up is Salisbury at 12 p.m. ET. Tulane and Fresno State will compete at 2 p.m., the victors will face off on Sunday.