To say the least, the Charlotte Catholic rugby team has had its share of success in its relatively short 10-year existence. Entering the 2013 season, the Cougars had won four consecutive state championships, been competitive on the national stage and produced some individual all-Americans along the way.
But the latest edition of Cougar rugby had a slightly different feel from previous seasons.
“I would say they are a true team,” Cougars coach Brendan Keane said. “In the past, we have had stars who scored most of our points, but this year there is much more balance in who scores and how often. There are still a few standouts, but the fact that there are more even scoring stats speaks to the way these boys play as a team.”
The results, however, remain the same.
On May 11, Charlotte Catholic stormed past Providence, 57-0, to win its fifth consecutive N.C. High School Rugby Association title.
The Cougars, who are ranked No. 6 in the nation by RUGBYMag.com, improved their record to 10-1 on the season and earned a berth to this week’s prestigious Boys National High School Invitational in Elkhart, Ind.
“It means a great deal (to win five consecutive state titles),” Keane said. “Every year, we set goals, and winning the state championship is always on the list. Meeting the goals we set is how we measure our success. Last Saturday’s win meant we had achieved one of our three goals for this season. We fell short of Goal 2 by losing to (No. 1-ranked) Gonzaga back in March, but are hoping to fulfill our final goal by coming home from the national tournament with a trophy for the first time.”
The Cougars’ win over Providence was especially impressive, as the Panthers also were one of the country’s best teams (ranked No. 25 at the time). But Charlotte Catholic’s blend of speed and power were too much for them to overcome.
“The game against Providence was all about intensity,” Keane said. “We spoke the day before about setting the tone from the opening kickoff with our physicality, speed, and power. I think we did that. Although we made mistakes throughout the game and the first half was a little sloppy at times, we recovered well and consistently were able to put pressure on them and turn that pressure into points.”
This season, the Cougars have received strong performances from a number of players. Some standouts have included captain Sam Cowley, who provides structure and a great kicking game; Maxim Bennett, an efficient tackler who also keeps the team going forward in attack; and Tyler Hatton, who makes impressive runs and provides surprising passing out of contact situations.
Still, Keane emphasized that this year’s Cougars are a team success story.
“As I said before, it’s difficult to pick just a few, as success is dependent on the effort of all 15 men on the field,” he said. “The forwards do their job and set the platform, and the backs go through the space. Without that, one or two people can’t do much alone.
“I think what has made the team so effective is the dedication the players have to being the best. We have worked hard to build a positive, winning culture within the team, and it has paid off. The boys don’t want to let down their teammates or the winning tradition the club has developed in its short history.”