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Kutztown Win Makes it 3 Rugby East Teams in NCR Final 4

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Kutztown Win Makes it 3 Rugby East Teams in NCR Final 4

Kutztown vs Iona from Sunday. Photo @coolrugbyphotos.

In the ongoing balance of testing different teams from different conferences, Kutztown defeated Iona 54-24 in the NCR DI quarterfinals.

That game finished off the quarterfinal games this week, which saw Penn State escape Brown 27-26 and St. Bonaventure defeated Mary Washington 39-7. The results showed some interesting things, including how good Brown has become. The Bears have won the Ivy League over Dartmouth and almost upended an established Rugby East team.

St. Bonaventure, for their part, continued their strong form and beat Mary Washington convincingly, giving the impression that the Rugby East is significantly stronger than the Chesapeake. We don't know that for sure, however, because, unfortunately, Liberty runners-up Northeastern had to forfeit to Chesapeake #1 Queens University Charlotte due to a COVID issue. So where does the Liberty sit in this hierarchy? The Kutztown vs Iona game showed that, with KU, only 1-4 in the Rugby East, winning convincingly.

But this was also the result of a new-look Kutztown. The Bears had played most of the fall without some expected starters—Matt Gelhaus, Aaron Gray, Breyten Maritz. Injuries had forced Head Coach Gregg Jones to shift his lineup almost every week.

Even so they competed, losing 33-30 to Penn State and 17-12 to St. Bonaventure, and playing Navy tough.

"It really helped a lot of kids mature," said Jones. 

So when the injured players returned, Jones was able to play them for a half (they aren't 80-minutes fit yet) and then bring on hardened subs.

"Having that option made a big difference," said Jones. "Then the other kids who had gained all this experience now gave us a really deep bench. Going forward, that's the team we'll have."

The physicality of the Rugby East and the week-in, week-out tough games are what prepared Kutztown to beat Iona, said Jones.

The coach also had praise for flyhalf Thorne O'Connell, who "has been the glue that has held this team together," and for freshmen Helmut Baschleben, a former HS All American out of Maui, 6-5 flanker Cameron Thurtell, and Benedict Quinn, who scored two tries against Iona. Those three were forced to play more this fall, and it all turned out well.

Next week at Penn State Berks, which is basically Kutztown's back yard, KU will play a rematch with St. Bonaventure, and Queens will take on Penn State. Three Rugby East teams are in the last four in NCR's DI playoffs.