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December 2, 2013

Booth Rugby Team Shows Well in MBA Championships at Stanford

By Craig Gridelli '14  |  december, 2013, Issue 1
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The Booth Rugby Team in action. (Photo courtesy of sportswurlz)


The Chicago Booth Rugby Football Club completed a very successful season by finishing in fourth place at the fall's major MBA tournament, held at Stanford on Nov. 2 and 3.

Comprised primarily of students with no prior rugby experience, and handicapped by a comparatively late start to the school year, Booth RFC nevertheless set out to establish the team as a competitor at the top tier of MBA Rugby in the world.

Practice started the first week of school, with Booth students mixing in with undergraduate practice on Mondays and Wednesdays and hosting their own practices in the Loop on Fridays. After a few weeks, some of the teammates started meeting up at a local bar to watch international rugby on Saturdays, building team camaraderie and understanding of the sport.

After roughly a month of practice time, Booth took on local rival Kellogg up in Evanston. Never having played together before, Booth struggled in the beginning, and Kellogg took an early 7-0 lead. But Booth stepped up, holding the score there for the remainder of the first half and well into the second. Finally, fatigue began setting in and Kellogg scored twice more in the final minutes of the game. Keeping it respectable, Tim Topicz '14 (fullback) scored a try in the corner in the waning seconds. Still, Booth, which had not beaten Kellogg in almost a decade, was defeated again, 19-7.

Despite the physicality of the game, both teams and their fans met up afterward in Evanston for a friendly social in true rugby fashion. Kellogg graciously hosted, songs were sung and rugby traditions were taught to the rookies and fans.

The MBA World Cup takes place in the spring, but the unofficial fall championship was hosted by Stanford the first weekend of November. A few days after Booth's defeat at the hands of Kellogg, they received their draw for the Stanford tournament and realized they would be playing Kellogg again in game one. Booth was going to get another shot at beating their rivals.

It was a warm and sunny Saturday in Palo Alto, and Booth came out determined on the upset. It looked possible when Dan Cavanaugh '15 (wing) scored the opening try of the game in the corner, and Booth took a 5-0 lead. Booth scored again shortly after, stealing a scrum from Kellogg and diving on the ball just inside Kellogg's try line (Gridelli '14, flanker). Booth was up 10-0, and went into the half winning 10-7.

Kellogg came out strong in the second, scoring with some hard-nosed forward play. They took a 12-10 lead. But Booth was resilient, and ran a big play down the field to retake the lead 15-12. Intensity was maxed out for the remainder of the game, with both sides fighting hard to win it in the final minutes. A penalty on Booth gave Kellogg a chance to kick for points, which tied the game with three minutes left. Despite appearing to go wide, the referee ruled the kick good and the game was tied at 15.

Seeing the chance at the first win against Kellogg in years fading away, Booth stole the ball and pushed it forward into Kellogg territory. With no time left, Kellogg committed a penalty and Booth had a chance to kick for the win. Mike Velcich '14 (fly half, Captain) took the kick from 40 meters out. Both sides were silent, exhausted, waiting on the outcome of the kick. Mike lined it up, took a breath and then kicked the ball. For a moment, it looked like the ball would sail wide right. Then the ball faded toward the center and split the uprights. Booth had won, 18-15.

There was no time to celebrate, as Booth played again an hour later against Wharton B. That game turned out to be far less dramatic, as Booth ran way with a 33-0 win. Ernesto Sariego '15 (8 man) scored two tries, and Tim Topicz added his second try of the year in the route.

Game three was against the favorite, and arguably best team in the country, Harvard. An early injury and yellow card saw Booth playing handicapped, and Harvard exploded to a 33-0 lead in the first half. However, Booth played tough the whole second half, shutting Harvard out. Ernesto Sariego scored again, his third try of the tournament, and what would be the only points scored against Harvard until the championship game.

With a 2-1 record in open play, Booth qualified as the number four seed and advanced to the championship play-off. Lacking many subs, Booth was reeling after another very physical loss in the semi-final game to Stanford. They faced off against Wharton A in the third place game.

Wharton, which finished as the number two team in the country last year, expected to blow out Booth. But Booth played arguably their best game of the tournament. After the first half, Wharton had only managed a 5-0 lead. Wharton scored on the opening play of the second half, going up 12-0, and then scored again a few plays later to make it 17-0. Showing the resilience that characterized the fall, Booth didn't give up. They scored a try, cutting the deficit to 17-7. And they managed to keep the ball pressed into Wharton's half for most of the remainder of the game, threatening to score again. Though Wharton managed to score on the last play of the game, making it 24-7, after the game Wharton expressed surprise and shock with how hard Booth had played them and how far they had come.

So Booth ends the fall in fourth place. It was a great season, and with the support of the best business school students in the country, the Booth Rugby Football Club hopes to do even better in the spring.

Last Updated 12/1/13
Last Updated 12/1/13