Pygmies Place Second in Arizona Tournament

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., October 14, 2015 –In a déjà vu from 2014, the  New Mexico Tech’s Queens and Pygmy rugby teams experienced decidedly different levels of competitive success at the Northern Arizona Tens tournament in Flagstaff.  Like last year, the women’s squad went winless through three matches, while the men’s team won three times before narrowly losing in the championship match.

The Pygmies started their long day with a 9:40 a.m. kickoff to the Window Rock Walleyes, one of three teams entered by the Northern Arizona Landsharks in this 35 year-old rugby festival boasting 23 teams in collegiate men’s, women’s, and old boys’ divisions. Javier Koerdell opened the scoring in under two minutes with a five-point try, compliments of a well-timed pass from Nigel Ruckhaus. Tech put things out of reach with three more first-half tries scored by Tanner Graham (with two) and Stephen Albritton. Koerdell was perfect on two-point conversion kicks for a 28-0 halftime bulge.

The Walleyes took advantage of Pygmy lapses in focus to score two opportunistic tries in the second half, but Koerdell scored on an intercepted pass, freshman teammate Josh Hudgeons notched his first collegiate try, and Graham ran his try count to four for the match. Koerdell was 7 of 8 on conversion kicks to see the fish off 54-12.

The Queens got underway at 10:20, also versus NAU. Club president and scrum half Cassie Coleman sprinted 40 meters to draw first blood but NAU responded with three tries of their own for a 15-5 halftime advantage.  After the hosts scored again to open the second half the fleet Coleman struck again following a scrum in Queens territory to bring the Queens closer at 20-10. But poor tackling, which was to haunt the Queens throughout the day, produced two more tries – one converted – and a 32-10 disadvantage. Coleman scored after another scrum to make it 32-15 and Chelsea Suarez was driven over the line by her Queens teammates too late to avert a 32-20 loss.

The Pygmies kicked off a mixed performance against the El Mirage, Arizona Nightmares at 11:40. Ruckhaus and Graham got early tries for a 10-0 lead but El Mirage caught the New Mexicans out of position to score on a simple outflanking move. Javier Koerdell scored for Tech with an assist by freshman Geno Palermo and Tanner Graham tallied again for a 22-5 lead. But Tech gave up a soft try down the left touchline and an ill-advised kick led to another to make it close at 22-17. Ruckhaus finally iced the victory at 29-17 after snagging a long lateral pass from Koerdell on the dead run.

The Queens faced the nationally-ranked University of New Mexico Lady Lobos at 12:20 with predictable results. The relatively-inexperienced Techies carried on bravely but fell 39-0.

The Queens’ 1:40 match against the Tempe Women’s Rugby Club brought the opposite of relief as the vastly-experienced Arizonans ran rampant in a 90-0 demolition. The Queens played well in the opening minutes but simply could not match Tempe’s know-how or physicality in the second half. 

The Pygmies hit their stride with a 45-10 win over NAU’s Chinle Chubs. Fly half John Mark Stiles lofted a short kick for Koerdell to run in for five points after three minutes and then Koerdell returned Geno Palermo’s earlier favor with an assist pass to put the young wing over. Koerdell converted both tries for a 14-0 Tech lead. Moments later scrum half Brian Arko scooped up a loose ball and flew up the left touchline for a long-range try before adding the kick. Chinle responded with one try to make it 21-5 at the half.  

Tech stormed into the championship game with four second half tries and two conversions (by Koerdell and Graham) for 24 points against one more try for Chinle. Arko claimed one try through quick action from a free kick and Stiles dashed in from short range after a strong advance engineered by fellow captain Fritz Hieb and forward teammates Stephen Albritton, Carl Peart, James Chavez, and Ruckhaus. Tech’s pack showed it was no fluke by setting up Graham for yet another try and then Arko followed suit by sneaking over from a penalty awarded close to Chinle’s line. The Chubs’ last-minute try was anti-climactic but showed character.

The collegiate men’s championship was a tense affair against NAU’s unbeaten collegiate team, playing as the Tuba City Carp, who earlier had beaten teams from Tucson, Prescott, and Phoenix.  Tuba City used an accomplished set of backs to grab an early 14-0 lead on two converted first-half tries. Tech got on the board from a perfect kick and gather by Stiles, converted by Koerdell. 

Just before halftime Hieb stole a NAU lineout throw and the Pygmies worked the ball across the field for first-year wing Anthony Bernal to touch down his first-ever try. Koerdell’s kick from the corner went wide and the Carp held a 14-12 lead at halftime.

Both teams defended strongly in the second half against sustained assaults. With five minutes remaining the home team was penalized and Koerdell boomed a 40-meter penalty kick high over and dead between the posts to give Tech a 15-14 lead. The Pygmies recovered the ball from the subsequent kickoff but an errant pass gave possession back to the Carp, who worked the ball in for a try in the corner for a 19-15 lead.

Tech threw everything at the Carps’ line in the final minute. Practically all 10 men carried the ball into a resolute defense, but NAU held on and eventually turned the ball over to capture the collegiate men’s championship.

Tanner Graham was named Man of the Day by co-captains Hieb and Stiles.Ruckhaus, who played both prop and lock, led Tech’s defense throughout the day. The Pygmies will take on the Pygmy Ancestors this Friday, Oct. 16, in the annual Black and Blue alumni match. The Ancestors prevailed over the students 65-14 in 2014. Kickoff with live commentary is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at the Tech rugby pitch.

 – NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Rugby Director