Cal Maritime, a recent playoff team in DII, competed in its first season in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) in 2011/2012. Maritime embodies exactly what NSCRO stands for, with an enrollment of less than 1,000, the Keelhaulers nearly hoisted NSCRO's trophy last weekend.
Maritime had an up-and-down year, winning their first five and losing three of their next four, but finished on a strong note by beating California Lutheran in the inaugural California Cup Championship 23-7.
From there, it was on to the NSCRO PacWest Region Playoffs in Wayne, Neb. where they would run the table against the University of Puget Sound and host Wayne State College to punch a ticket to the semifinals in Glendale, Colo. The Keelhaulers had made it to the quarterfinals in DII before, but 2012 marks their first foray into the semis.
"It was an experience of a lifetime in rugby town, USA," Maritime head coach Steve Hiatt said. "The boys worked hard all year long and it truly paid off. NSCRO did such a great job of putting everything together and made it a very unforgettable experience."
First was a match-up against a North Florida team that had powered through most of their competition. Maritime played one of their best matches of the year in a 31-26 win.
The next step would be a chance at something that hadn't ever occurred to them, a shot at the national championship. And the only thing standing in their way was an experienced Salve Regina squad.
The Keelhaulers put every last of ounce of play they had into the match and gave Regina a real run for their money. However, the Seahawks, who were making their second straight championship appearance, would take the NSCRO Championship home to Rhode Island with a 22-15 win.
"The boys played a great tournament and I couldn't be more proud of their performance," Hiatt said. "We played one of the best teams in the country and took them down to the wire. We played great rugby, but we just couldn't shake their composure and break them down."
Asked how he would sum up the season for his team, Hiatt put it as simply as he could:
"These boys rose to every challenge that was presented to them and kept finding ways to win rugby matches. They left everything out on the pitch and were a part of something that had never been done in program history; play for the national championship. I hope every player and coach gets to experience what I got to this season."
After finishing one of the best seasons in school history, the Cal Maritime rugby team was rewarded with a #2 national ranking in the final Top 25 poll. For the full poll, click on the link below.