Saint Mary’s, BYU, Looking to Get Back On Top

D1A Rugby: Saint Mary’s, BYU, Looking to Get Back On Top
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater

Saint Mary’s and BYU will meet for the third time this season in the round of eight playoffs this weekend. Both teams are very familiar with one another and both are trying to reestablish themselves as national champions after a disappointing finish in 2018.

After making five consecutive D1A finals and winning three titles, the Gaels were on the receiving end of a shocking loss at home to Lindenwood in the quarterfinals last season. The Gaels learned a number of lessons from last year’s early exit.

“We had an amazing season last season but got throttled when it counted,” said St. Mary’s coach Tim O’Brien. We tried to work super hard after a questionable performance against Cal Poly and went into the Lindenwood game super tired and something was missing. This year we are taking a different approach.”

St. Mary’s is resetting themselves and gearing up for another title run. Although they graduated a few key seniors, the core of the team is ready to get back at it.

“Certainly that game is in the back of our minds as we take the field this year, but there isn’t necessarily an extra fire to win. There is more of a sense that we can be better,” O’Brien added.

 In their way is a BYU squad that lost an uncharacteristic game at home to end their 2018 campaign. The Cougars have only lost a handful of games to college opponents on home turf and for the first time ever lost to Penn State in Utah. Prior to that, BYU had reached every final from 2006-2013 and after they reentered the fray in D1A in 2017, made the semifinals only to lose to Life University.

A lot has changed over the course of a year. Longtime head coach David Smyth left the reigns of a program he brought to prominence and former BYU standout Steve St. Pierre took over. St Pierre implemented some changes immediately, opting for the Cougars to enter the Rocky Mountain Conference rather than play as an independent but for the most part is trying to build upon a solid foundation.

“Coach Smyth was a legend and I just feel honored to be able to do what I can to continue on the legacy that he created at BYU rugby,” said St. Pierre. “Whenever you bring in a new staff there will always be things that are different but we are really just trying to continue to make BYU rugby the best it can be for on field performance and for the overall growth of our players.”

With a focus on sustained excellence, the Cougars are itching to get back to this semifinals. While St. Mary’s has beaten the BYU twice this season, it is actually a lesson learned from last year’s loss to Penn State that is motivating the Cougars.

“Our guys learned to not take anything for granted and that any team can win any given game in the playoffs,” St. Pierre concluded.