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Wildcats Win 5th NSCRO Title

  • 04 May 2016

Wayne State College needs to update its scoreboard.


Wayne State College has won a National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) title every year for the past five years. In 2012 and 2013, the Nebraska school won the league’s 15s championship, and after last weekend’s 6-0 performance in Charlotte, N.C., the Wildcats are now three-time reigning NSCRO 7s champions.


The field becomes more competitive every year, as NSCRO continues to add more teams realizing the benefits of small-school affiliation. Wayne State College coach Darrin Barner knew his team would be challenged in North Carolina, but was also confident in his hard-working team that featured a lot of experience. Only two players were new to nationals, and they were balanced by a couple of fifth-year seniors who were playing in their fifth championship series as Wildcats. At the epicenter are Jasmine Kovacs and Sam Warneke, who were named to the all-tournament team at nationals.


“She’s my Magic Johnson,” Barner said of championship MVP Kovacs. “In my 15 years of coaching, I’ve never had a better passer than her. She’s precision. She knows the game well enough to draw two defenders and then hit the open player with an absolute bullet pass every time.


“Sam’s got great speed,” the coach added. “She crossed over from Wayne State College soccer and has great footwork. She’s our shake-and-bake runner. She jukes and jives, freezes the defense, and then turns it on.”


The duo was influential on day one of nationals, as the Wildcats defeated pool play opponents Endicott 26-10, Ursinus 27-5 and California University of Pennsylvania 37-5. Saturday also included the quarterfinals, and the Wildcats bettered Ursinus again 30-7. Joining Wayne State College in the final four were Colorado College (20-12 win vs. Univ. New England), Endicott (12-10 win vs. Simpson College) and Lee University (20-19 Mount St. Mary’s).


“Any of the eight teams that made the quarterfinals could have won the whole thing,” Barner said. “It was a very deep, talented group. They were all very salty.”


While the rains saturated the Rugby Athletic Center Saturday evening, Barner and assistant coach Dennis Danielson (a former NFL coach who joined the rugby staff last year) corralled the team for two-and-a-half hours of film. It’s standard play for the Wildcats, who are accustomed to in-depth chalk talks and the structured offense that two former football players prefer.


Come Sunday morning, the biggest obstacle became the weather. An hours-long delay eventually forced the cancellation of non-championship matches. The soggy field conditions impacted the speed of play Sunday.


“We’re a run-and-gun team that slings the ball from sideline to sideline, and the weather made it hard to hang onto the ball,” Barner explained. “Our big concern with [semifinal opponent] Lee was their size. They were bigger, stronger and more of a short-yardage team, where you’re not passing as much. We knew we’d have our hands full because we couldn’t play as wide as we’re used to.”


A nailbiter evolved, but Wayne State College pulled away at the end for a 19-5 win and berth to the final against Colorado College, which defeated Endicott 17-5 in the semis.


Everything seemed to come together for the final, and Wayne State College posted a 20-0 win over first-year NSCRO member Colorado College.


“We played very well. We just simply had the ball all the time and turned the ball over on defense frequently,” Barner said. “The time of possession was way on our side and we played on their half of the pitch almost the entire game. Our defense created offensive opportunities.


“We didn’t have any superstars on the 7s team this year,” Barner added. “The roster, they’re all equal. We’re very deep. Nobody’s great but everybody’s good. Normally teams have two girls who handle the ball 90% of the time, but they come off the field, and that’s it. For us, everybody was a weapon.”


Lee University finished third with a 22-17 overtime win over Endicott.


When Wayne State College returned to Nebraska, the players were escorted through Main Street on fire trucks as the town honored the three-time 7s victors during a parade. It was nice visibility for a team that is looking to extend its reach into the high school ranks. Barner doesn’t inherit rugby players – in fact, every year he gets one or two seniors from varsity track, softball or soccer looking to play out their eligibility on the 7s team. New school president Dr. Marysz Rames is intrigued by the rugby program’s success and has offered her support should Barner leverage these national championships and start recruiting high school players.


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