Saint Mary’s national championship this spring follows the Gaels’ second-place finish in the USA Rugby College 7s National Tournament in November.The Saint Mary’s rugby team won its first-ever USA Rugby Division 1A national championship with a 21-6 triumph over Life University of suburban Atlanta May 10 at Stanford’s Steuber Rugby Stadium. The Gaels used outstanding defense to prevail in a rematch of last year’s national final that Life rallied to win after SMC led at halftime.

A national championship was far from head coach Tim O’Brien’s mind coming into the season. “We graduated nine starters from last year’s team, two of whom are now members of the USA national team,” he said. “We had quite conservative expectations. But the team’s love for one another and willingness to work in a cooperative and entrepreneurial environment were keys to a terrific season.”

SMC trailed at halftime of the championship match but began the second half with a fury. Captain Cooper Maloney, a junior from Sebastopol, scored to put the Gaels in front for good early in the second half. “The difference between this year and last year is our ability to come back from mistakes,” said Maloney, who was named most valuable player of the championship match. “This year we were able to keep our heads and keep our confidence.”

O’Brien said the Gaels work at being able to overcome adversity. “Mental, physical and emotional skill development are all components of ‘play’ we focus on,” he said.

Saint Mary’s posted a 17-1 regular season record, with wins over national powerhouses UC Berkeley, the most dominant team in college rugby history, and BYU.

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