The Thunder Chickens’ hard-fought match against Saint Louis University was the stuff of legend. According to Rugby Magazine, SLU had not lost a single league match in five years, and had gone to nationals the past two years in a row. They came onto the field as 14th in the national rankings of Division II as of Sept. 26, just before Principia’s match against them on Oct. 10.
As if the match weren’t already daunting enough on its own, the Thunder Chickens were shaking off a disheartening loss against SIU Carbondale the previous week. And it was a rainy afternoon, affecting the ease of play. Junior Marshall McCurties, who plays inside center, expected this to be “the toughest match of the year and that we would have to play very well in order to win.”
Senior Trevor Marunde, captain, started off with the first score of the game on a line-out deep in SLU’s territory, setting the tone that motivated the team to keep a high level of play. Senior Jake Milner, the rugby club’s president, said that the team was able to maintain control over SLU and that one reason the team played well was a result of their strong communication during intense play, which was essential in Marunde’s try as well as the game-changing conversion by sophomore Ben Stolfa.
McCurties recalled, “Kendall [Shoemake] was on my right screaming ‘wide’ loud enough so that he, as coach always says, ‘overcame the noise in my head,’ and I looked up and saw that he was open, got to the ball to him, he popped it off to Ben Stolfa who scored.”
Stolfa’s try overcame a one-point lead by SLU with approximately four minutes left in the match. They missed the following kick, that put Principia up by one. By this time, the stands were full of enthusiasm and the soccer crowd rooting on the neighboring field couldn’t help but take notice of the action.
A highlight of the game was when sophomore Jake Roometua made a leaping 20-yard pass to Marunde who connected with junior Jordan Anderson, who sailed past the white line. The time was still running by the referee’s clock, Marunde took the final kick and immediately turned around to launch into a dogpile to triumphantly celebrate the end of the game with a score of 22-14.
Milner explained the stakes of not only this victory but of the final score in how it affects the team’s standing: “All teams in our division have one loss, so it’s coming down to a point system, in which you get a point if you score four tries. That’s why all these games are becoming more and more important.”
Since this match, the Thunder Chickens have moved to 16th in the national rankings after a victory against the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The team’s next home game is this weekend on Nov. 2 for the conference sevens championships, which will determine whether Principia qualifies for the sevens nationals.
In sevens, each team fields seven players as opposed to 15, a configuration that McCurties believes the team to be more competitive in against other schools. After the championships, they face the University of Central Missouri, whom Principia reasons to beat since defeated opponent SLU beat Central recently. This will be the team’s final match that can help ensure a spot in nationals at the end of the season.
Ben Stolfa scored a try, not a conversion. S&T Rolla was mislabelled as University of Missouri- St. Louis. The Sevens tournament was October 26, and the Fifteens tournament was November 2.