Making it to the state playoffs in their first year of N.C. Rugby League play, the Chapel Hill Warriors went as far as Saturday’s Division III semifinals before losing 17-15 at favored Asheville.
“Asheville were undefeated in their conference and they told us this was the toughest match they’d played in a long time,” said Ted Calhoun, a 30-year rugby veteran, licking his wounds and drinking beer at the bar post-match.
Calhoun played as the second row, or lock, a member of the forward pack that he describes as the pistons of a train, pushing in the scrum.
“I had a pretty good game,” said Calhoun, “but we lost, so I’m beating myself up.”
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Saturday’s game in Asheville was Calhoun’s highlight of the year despite the loss. “We took the number one seed right down to the wire and could of, should of, would of won.”
The Warriors’ 4-4 record got them into the playoffs as a sixth seed. They played the Charlotte Barbarians in Charlotte on March 29, winning 28-5.
They came back to Chapel Hill and resumed their Tuesday, Thursday practice schedule and then made the four-hour drive Saturday to Asheville.
“We ended with a winning record and played some amazing rugby for a first year club,” said Drew Zabor, the 23-year-old founder of the Warriors Rugby Club.
Zabor started the Warriors after graduating from Appalachian State and returning to Chapel Hill in the winter of 2012. He brings nine years of experience to the field.
“I love rugby and couldn’t imagine not playing anymore after college,” said Zabor.
As a new organization but with experienced players, many of them former members of the local Highlanders Rugby Club, the Warriors played their inaugural match in 2013.
Saturday’s game ended an excellent first season for the Warriors, but the team will only take a couple of weeks off before starting practice for the summer’s sevens rugby season.
Sevens is a faster variant of rugby played with 7, rather than 15, athletes on the field.
In the meantime Calhoun, Zabor and the other Warriors will play touch rugby on Sundays at 1 p.m. at Cedar Falls Park. And the Warriors will be looking forward to another opportunity to compete for the DIII Championship in the fall.