April 29, 2013
The Saint John's University rugby team captured the National Small College championship with a 31-16 win over Duke University Sunday, April 28, at Infinity Park, Glendale, Colo.
The Johnnies advanced to the championship with a 37-35 win over the University of Denver in the tournament semifinals Saturday, April 27.
SJU senior Nick Gardner (Gaylord, Minn.) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and was one of five Johnnies named to the 15-man all-tournament team. Gardner scored four trys during the tournament.
Joining Gardner on the all-tournament team were seniors Mitch Thune (Le Sueur, Minn.), Colin Merrigan (Minneapolis) and Tom Ortlieb (Algonquin, Ill.), and junior Joe Thompson (Detroit Lakes, Minn.).
Ortlieb also received the Heart and Soul Award. One player from each of the four teams in the tournament received the award.
Thune scored a try seven minutes into the championship game against Duke, giving the Johnnies a lead they never lost. By halftime, SJU built a 19-3 lead, getting scores from sophomore Steven Oczak (Shoreview, Minn.) and Gardner and two kicks from senior John Michurski (Eden Prairie, Minn.).
Duke closed within 26-11 in the second half, but the Johnnies got second-half scores from senior Steve Chesness (Grand Rapids, Minn.) and Thompson to put the Blue Devils away.
The Johnnies had a back-and-forth game with Denver in the semifinals. Saint John's trailed by 17 points in the first half, but closed to within 10 at the half (28-18).
Gardner scored a try with three minutes remaining to tie the match, 35-35, and Michurski followed with the kick to give the Johnnies the win.
Rugby is a club sport at Saint John's. A total of 211 teams competed for the National Small College championship, which is based on men's enrollment (schools must have fewer than 4,500 male students to compete in this division).