The Grand Canyon University men’s rugby program ended its 15s season with a semifinal finish in the Division I-AA national spring tournament and a No. 21 national ranking for all Division I teams.
The Lopes still have needed something more since an April 9 loss and the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship provided it.
GCU landed an at-large bid in the 16-team Division I tournament, which starts Friday in Glendale, Colo.
“This is the pinnacle of 7s collegiate rugby in the U.S.,” Lopes head coach Cameron Wyper said. “We’ve put ourselves on the map. People are like, ‘They’re a decent program.’ With the caliber of athletes that we have, it’s time to win something.
“To bounce back and get the bid, that’s huge for us as a program moving forward. Before we go to Division I next year, this will be a good gauge point. I think we’ll surprise some teams. Nobody is really looking to GCU as a threat.”
The Lopes will travel a 15-man squad featuring captain Darien Pickett, a member of USA Rugby’s U20 National Training Team, along with Brandon Curle, Austin Taefu and Maceo Brown.
“They are the ones to watch,” Wyper said. “They’re exciting players they get the ball in their hands and can make something happen.”
GCU opens the tournament Friday night with pool matches against Wyoming and Stanford. On Saturday, the Lopes will close pool play against 2015 7s national champ Lindenwood, where Wyper formerly coached.
St. Mary’s College is the defending 7s national champ, as well as the new 15s national champion. This year’s championship match will be Sunday at 5,000-seat Infinity Park. All tournament games will be streamed here.
The Lopes players have stayed on campus two weeks past the close of the academic year in order to train early each morning. GCU enters the tournament with hopes of reaching the Division I quarterfinals but knowing that more is possible in 7s.
“It is one of those games that anybody could win,” Wyper said. “You could have this tournament on four different weekends and have different teams win. It’s over so quickly. If a team makes a mistake and the other team capitalizes, then that team that made the mistake is going home.”