Wheeling, W. Va. – Over the past two seasons, Wheeling University Head Rugby Coach Mike Geibel has been rebuilding the program from the ground up. After heavy recruiting and a lot of hard work on the field, all that work came to fruition during the 2021-22 season as the team enjoyed its most successful season in history. The Cardinals combined to go 34-8-1 over 43 matches played this season and made two appearances in National Championship events. The 34 wins between 15’s and 7’s season was a program record, and they secured the first-ever National Championship in school history when they won the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) Rhino Rugby Bowl back in December.
The season began in the fall as the Cardinals embarked on their first 15’s season since 2018 as they competed in the Allegheny Rugby Union. They opened the season with three straight wins against Franciscan, IUP, and West Virginia University that saw them outscore their opponents by a combined score of 196-20. They hit their first bump in the road when they took on Notre Dame College in a game that came down to the final minute. The Falcons would score 13 unanswered points to end the game and Wheeling couldn’t take advantage of a last-minute error as they fell 18-16.
They took their second consecutive loss when they fell to Army in their next match 31-14 before earning a forfeit win against Kent State to move to 4-2 on the season. The tide began to turn when Wheeling hosted Davenport, a team they were a heavy underdog against. The Cardinals would battle throughout the afternoon and earned a 29-29 tie thanks to a last second try from Rua Karimazondo. The Cardinals would end 15’s season with a pair of 10’s matches against Alderson Broaddus that helped them pick up two more wins and move their record to 6-2-1 as they awaited their playoff fate. They ended up qualifying for the first-ever NCR Rhino Rugby Bowl and were slated for a matchup with the 2019 DIAA defending champions in Iowa Central Community College.
The game was played at the home of Major League Rugby’s (MLR) Houston Sabercats and Wheeling was out to a hot start, leading 24-5 at halftime. The Tartans made it interesting in the second half, but Wheeling was able to hold on for the first National Championship in program history. It was a big momentum boost for the team and had them riding high as they headed into 15’s season in the spring. With only two months to recover, it was time to focus up and fight to get back to the National Championship stage in May.
15’s season began with the Pitt 7’s in mid-February and began a string of six 7’s tournaments leading up to the NCR CRC 7’s in late May. The Cardinals would go on a hot string, winning four of those six tournaments and finishing the 7’s season with a combined record of 23-5. Their best performance came in the WVU Chicken 7’s, when they earned four shutout wins in four games to secure the championship. It was the first time in school history that the Cardinals won all four games of a 7’s tournament via shutout and the offense combined to score 189 points over the four-game stretch.
Once the 7’s season concluded, Wheeling Rugby would make their way back to the National stage by earning the #3 seed in the NCR CRC 7’s. They were set for their first-round matchup with Harvard and rolled over the Crimson with a 35-7 victory. They moved on to face #2 St. Bonaventure and got revenge from the team’s first meeting of the season, winning the game 22-14, before falling to 4x defending champion Lindenwood in the quarterfinals. They would defeat Penn State to make it to the fifth-place game and ended the tournament as the sixth best team in the country, falling to Indiana 21-14.
While it was a big year for the team, there were also some strong individual accolades for the team, led by freshman Chief Chipfumbu. Chipfumbu became the program’s first NCR Division I All-American when he earned the title back in mid-February before 7’s season. He is one of five Cardinal student-athletes to earn All-American accolades this season, joining the ranks of Audrey Francis (Volleyball), Rich White III (Football), Andrew Taylor (Track & Field), and Jabez Reeves (Track & Field). Mohamed Haddar and Ayoub Jalli each also had strong years on offense with Haddar scoring several tries and Jalli being a monster on conversion kicks.
The Wheeling Rugby team now heads into the offseason as they look to build on this season’s performance and come back even stronger during 15’s season in 2022.