BYU rugby: Cougars in championship game for 7th consecutive year

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 7:33 p.m. MDT

BYU's Paul Lasike passes the ball. The BYU rugby team faces Arkansas State for the collegiate national championship Saturday.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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PROVO — All the stars seemed to be lining up favorably for the BYU rugby team last year as the Cougars prepared to face Cal in the national championship match at Rio Tinto Stadium.

But BYU fell to the Golden Bears, 21-14, resulting in a big letdown for Cougar players, coaches and fans.

"Last year was a major disappointment," said senior All-America prop Mikey Su'a. "It was the first time we had a championship close to home and we had so many fans there. We just weren't able to pull it out. It felt like a pretty big failure, actually. Most of the team is back from last year and we all remember that feeling. It's been a long season. We've worked hard to not have that feeling again."

"We definitely had a chance to win it last year," recalled team captain Ryan Roundy. "It was heart-breaking."

A year later, BYU finds itself back in the title tilt Saturday (7:30 p.m., MT). The match can be viewed via the Internet on ESPN3 and it will be played, once again, at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Standing in the Cougars' way of a national championship this time is Arkansas State.

"We've played them twice in last three years, last year in the semifinals," said BYU coach David Smyth. "They're a tough team. We've got our work cut out for us, no doubt."

It's part of an action-packed weekend at Rio Tinto Stadium, host of the high school single school and club championships, as well as the men's DI-A, DI-AA, and D-II college championships.

BYU isn't the only local school competing for a crown. Utah Valley University battles Lindenwood in the Division II Semifinal Friday (11 a.m.), with the championship game set for Saturday (2 p.m.).

This marks the seventh consecutive season that the Cougars have appeared in the championship match. They have won one title, in 2009. A few current BYU players were part of that '09 team, and they want to duplicate that feat.

Capturing another championship "would mean a lot," said Su'a, who was part of the 2009 squad. "The first championship, we dedicated it to everybody that never had a chance to go to the championship game. This one will be for us and our supporters. It would mean a lot for us to win it."

Roundy will be playing his third championship game. "I've played in the last two and they've both been losses," he said. "I'm trying to do everything I can this week to be prepared for Saturday, to make sure that the same thing doesn't happen this year that happened the past couple of years."

Smyth said another championship "would validate what we're doing and be great for the boys. They've worked very, very hard. The effort's been there all season. It would be the icing on the cake. This year they may be even more focused on finishing strong and winning that championship. We have six seniors that want to go out on top in their last year."

Before this season, BYU and Cal had squared off in every championship game since 2006. But the Bears opted to forego participation in college rugby's top division, essentially interrupting an intriguing rivalry between the two schools.

"We have played Cal six years in a row, so it's a little strange from that perspective," Smyth said. "But they're not there this year. Arkansas State did what they needed to and earned the right to be there. We're focused on them and giving them the respect they deserve."

The Cougars were tested in last week's semifinal clash in Georgia, where they defeated Life University, 26-20.

"It was really tough. That was up there with some of the fierce battles we've had with Cal over the year," Smyth said. "We had to go across the country and play in a different climate. It was pretty hot and humid. We played a very good outfit."

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