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Mountaineers fall short in club final

David Snyder of the Mountaineers carries the ball while teammate Kevin Morgan follows the play during the second half of Sunday’s men’s club division championship game against the East Side Hyenas at North Country Community College. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — A remarkable run on Saturday. A harsh lesson learned on Sunday.

That’s how the weekend unfolded for the Mountaineers men’s team as it competed for the first time in the club division at the 46th annual Can-Am Rugby Tournament.

After winning the tournament’s social division crown the past two years, the Mountaineers stepped up to the Can-Am’s most competitive level this summer: the men’s 16-team club division. Not knowing quite what to expect, the Mountaineers efficiently rolled through their first three opponents on Saturday by a combined score of 112-5 to advance to Sunday’s club final, where in a way, they faced a familiar foe in the East Side Hyenas.

The Mountaineers took down the Hyenas in the social division championship match the past two years, but facing that rugby club’s top team this time around was a much different story. Playing in the final match of the day on hallowed ground in the North Country Community College bowl, the Mountaineers jumped out to a 5-0 lead. But from there, it was all the Hyenas, as they rattled off 43 unanswered points to rout the Can-Am’s host side 43-5 and win their third-straight club division championship.

In the end, the Hyenas, a collection of seasoned ruggers from Detroit and other parts of the Midwest, proved to be too big, too strong, too fast and too efficient for the Mountaineers to handle.

Sheila Decker gains ground for the Mountaineers women on Saturday during action against Phoenixville-Whitehorse. Also pictured for the Mountaineers on the left is Katie O’Reilly. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“Obviously, those Hyenas, man they are an awesome team,” Mountaineers captain Forrest Morgan said. “We got on them early, then stupid penalties, stupid mistakes kind of got our heads down and we never got the chance to pick them back up. We gave the momentum right back to them.

“A couple bad sloppy balls on our part got them going, and they had a couple late scores that made the outcome look a lot worse than it really was,” Morgan added. “It was good fight. We have a great rivalry with those guys now, so hopefully we’re back next year with a little more firepower and take them down.”

Hyenas captain Ben Wendt said competing in the Can-Am is a highlight of their players’ summer, and when they come to Saranac Lake, they come to win.

“We’ve been coming for years and keep getting stronger and stronger,” Wendt said. “They (the Mountaineers) did a great job right off the bat. They took the lead over us right away, but the players on this team are so disciplined and willing to do the dirty work. We got to the offense eventually, but we started off with great defense and that set us up. Our scrumming was bar none our best feature. Our scrums dominated. We drove and drove and drove.

“This is what we come here to do: win in Saranac Lake,” Wendt added. “We come up here on Thursday and have a very serious practice on Friday. People compete to be on the club team versus our social team. It’s an honor to be on the club team. We have full-time coaches who started this club 21 years ago coming here. I don’t know how many championships we have, but we have a few pieces of hardware.”

Cam Moody of the Mountaineers scoops up a ball next to teammate Tyler Callahan and a Cardinals opponent during men’s social division action Saturday at Petrova Avenue. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Morgan said despite the lopsided loss, advancing to the club championship match is a huge step in the right direction.

“Right now, we have a really good core of guys who like this event, love coming up here,” he said. “We pick up a couple more guys each year and our teams keep getting better and better. Obviously you could see that on Saturday, but not as much on Sunday.

“It might not be a championship, but I think second place in the entire tournament is better than a social championship at the end of the day,” Morgan said. “That’s something we can hang our hats on, be proud of and look forward to next year. Today was unfortunate, but I hope this year leaves a salty taste and gets guys hungry for next year, and brings everybody back to try and make another run at it.”

The men’s club team was one of four Mountaineers sides competing in the tournament. On Friday, the Mountaineers men’s over-50 squad lost two matches to a pair of touring teams of former members of the United States Marine Corps in a competitive division. The Mountaineers Old Boys fell 20-10 to Chesty’s Disciples in their first match, and then were thrashed 57-0 by Old Breed in their second and final match of the tournament.

On Saturday, the other two Mountaineers teams in the tournament, the men’s social and the women’s sides, combined to post a 3-3 record during their inspiring runs.

The women’s team, especially, had a really good day that ended in heartbreak. The Mountaineers women posted two hard-fought wins to kick off their hopeful run, beating the Midwest Tbirds 24-7 and following that up with a 34-5 victory over Phoenixville-Whitehorse of Pennsylvania. Their second triumph of the day set up a showdown of unbeatens in the early evening in a match that saw the Mountaineers fall 5-3 to the Misfits, which was the team that ultimately went on to win the championship match Sunday by a 45-5 score.

“What could have been,” Mountaineers women’s captain Katie O’Reilly said on Sunday while watching the Misfits romp their way to the women’s title at NCCC. “Losing to the team that wins it by only two points, especially when we were up for the majority of the game, that’s definitely a hard hit. The good thing to take away from this is knowing that we can play at this level. I don’t think that’s ever been an expectation of the Mountaineers women before, but finally now we’ve reached a point where we have the right chemistry with the right players and we belong here.

“It’s not just about winning a consolation championship anymore,” O’Reilly added. “It’s a real expectation now that we can make it to Sunday at the bowl and play for a championship like our boys have.”

The Mountaineers fourth team in the tournament was the men’s social side, which in reality, was the two-time defending champion in that division but its ranks were depleted when many of the top players on the side made the move to the club division team.

Still, the social division squad made a competitive run before ending Saturday’s action with a 1-2 record. The Mountaineers lost their first match 36-3 to the Gamblers, who marched all the way to claim the men’s social division title on Sunday. The loss sent the Mountaineers into the consolation bracket, where they defeated the Rochester Colonials 29-5 in their second game of the day. The win kept the team’s day going into the evening, but a stinging 33-10 setback to the Virginia Cardinals ended the Mountaineers run in this tournament.

“I’d say we had a hard time finding our groove in the first game, trying to find out where to put people so we could compete at our best,” Mountaineers captain Tyler Callahan said. “Once we realized what positions to put guys in, that’s when we started moving forward. We didn’t quit, we competed all the way to the end.

“It wasn’t the outcome that we wanted,” Callahan continued. “Of course we wanted to go into Sunday, play in the semifinals and ultimately go into the championship, but that’s not always how it works. We realized that. Competitively, we were right where we needed to be the entire day; a good showing.”