The Grand Canyon University men’s rugby team has the competitive nature to be frustrated at not pulling off more at the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship but the perspective to realize what a great debut it made.
Lopes head coach Cameron Wyper set a goal for GCU to be a quarterfinalist in the program’s initial appearance but his team made a greater impression. The Lopes played eventual national champion Lindenwood closer than any other team in the 16-team tournament. They also recorded convincing wins against Wyoming and Florida International while also tying Stanford.
“If somebody had told me that sixth place is where we were going to finish going into it, I would’ve been stoked,” Wyper said. “I had a ton of coaches there coming up to me and saying they were hearing great things about GCU and that they are losing recruits to us.”
In pool play, the Lopes beat top-10 Wyoming 27-0 with two Maceo Brown tries but lost Brendan Curle to a hamstring injury. GCU then finished pool play with a 26-5 loss to Lindenwood and a 22-22 tie against Stanford after leading late on a Ricky Widsom try. That qualified GCU for Saturday’s quarterfinals, where it lost 36-5 to second-ranked St. Mary’s.
In the consolation bracket, GCU beat Florida International 31-7 with Brown sending the Lopes to a 19-0 halftime lead by setting up a try and scoring two more. That advanced the Lopes to a fifth-place game against Bowling Green. GCU fell behind 14-0 but rallied on Austin Taefu and Darien Pickett tries. Trailing 21-14 late in the game, Taefu scored again at the horn to give the Lopes a chance to send the game to extra time but the potential tying conversion missed for a 21-19 loss.
“As a program, we got a ton of exposure,” Wyper said. “All games were streamed on therugbychannel.tv and ESPNU. We had emails from recruits looking to come to GCU next year. Playing at that top level of college rugby and seeing what they need to do to be the best is helpful. We’re trying to play the best rugby we can find in college.”
The Lopes’ sixth-place finish in Division I 7s follows the program’s Division I-AA spring semifinalist finish in 15s and No. 21 overall ranking.
“All in all, looking back on the season, it’s been a crazy good first season and I’m happy with the boys,” Wyper said.