Along the Mississippi River in the southern Illinois town of Elsah (population 673) sits Principia College.
A little more than 500 students attend the school, which boasts a campus that became a National Historic Landmark in 1993.
Amid the 2,600-acre campus and its small-town environment is a behemoth in college rugby.
“We’ve proved that it’s not about the size of your school, it’s about how you play for the guy next to you,” said senior fly back Trevor Marunde, a McHenry West graduate.
Marunde and the athletes around him at Principia pulled off a major feat in late November, winning the USA Rugby 7s Division II national championship in Greensboro, N.C. The team’s 27-12 win against Wisconsin Stout clinched the title in the eight-team tournament.
“It was absolutely incredible,” said Marunde, who helped the team post a 4-1 record at nationals. “I’ve never been part of a team that’s been so successful.”
Along with crediting teammates, Marunde said the team’s head coach, Ward Patterson, has plenty to do with Principia’s success.
A former Principia rugby player in the early 1980s, Patterson went on to become a highly successful coach at Vermont’s Middlebury College, where he won a national title in 2007.
“We have a pretty unique program,” Marunde said. “Ward has really been the greatest human being/coach/life coach that I’ve ever had in my life. He can translate anything about the game of rugby to your life.”
Patterson guided the team to a 12-3 record this season and only one loss in the final two months. At nationals, Principia’s only loss was a 12-10 decision against James Madison University. The team’s four victories were by an average of more than 24 points.
A high school football player, Marunde made the transition to rugby at Principia, which dropped its football program in 2009.
“Those (football) skills translated pretty well,” said Marunde, a prep wide receiver and cornerback. “I brought that teamwork and playing-for-your-brothers mentality from football, as well.”
Marunde’s athleticism made him a natural for the sport. Principia plays the game in the 15s and 7s versions, Marunde said. The 15s is a longer game, with two 40-minute halves, while complete 7s contests are 14 minutes long.
With 15 players a side, athletes tend to be short and stocky, according to Marunde. In the 7s game, “most of the players look like an NFL wide receiver or defensive back would look,” he said. “There’s so much open space.”
Before his college season, Marunde competed with the Austin, Texas-based El Azul club for tournaments in Las Vegas, Houston and Kansas City.
The 7s version of the game will be played in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, which is where Marunde hopes the sport will take him.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
Winning with the Warhawks: Tom Gerszewski (Crystal Lake South) and Corey Meyer (Cary-Grove) are part of a Wisconsin-Whitewater wrestling team that is ranked No. 4 in the nation this week in the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Division III rankings.
Gerszewski, a sophomore 157-pounder, has a 9-3 record with three pins for the Warhawks. One of Gerszewski’s pins came in 28 seconds, which ranks as the second-fastest on the team.
A sophomore 141-pounder, Meyer is 9-5 this season with two victories by pin.
Gophers earn gymnastics ranking: Prairie Ridge grad Jenny Covers and the University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team will open the season this weekend as the 13th-ranked team in the NCAA preseason poll.
Covers, a junior who earned the Gophers’ Most Improved Award last season, competed in all 14 meets a year ago as Minnesota finished fourth in the NCAA Championships. She set career-best scores last season in the floor exercise (9.850) and in all-around competition (39.950).
Doing it all at Beloit: Freshman quarterback Kameron Sallee (Huntley) ranked second on D-III Beloit College’s football team in scoring during the fall season by serving as a jack of all trades.
Sallee passed for six touchdowns and rushed for two more scores, finishing the season as the team’s No. 2 rusher with 311 yards. He also served as the team’s top placekicker, making all 22 of his extra-point kicks and connecting on five field goals, including a season-long boot of 36 yards for the Bucs (1-9).
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.