Fort Worth – 2000 USA Rugby Men’s DII XVs National Championship
Rice Rugby – USA Rugby Division 1 College Round of 16 – 9th place overall
The 2000 team was the first from Rice and the Texas Rugby Union to rank in the top 10 based on USA Rugbys ranking system. Lead by captain Steven Vaughan, coaches Eddie Brown, Tim Gorham, and John Connolly, the Rice team continued to improve through the season. After a disappointing 3rd place finish in the TRU, the 2000 team beat Colorado State University and crushed Texas A&M in back-to-back games to qualify for the Western Semifinals. The warm-up game against CSU was such a physical match that the Aggie coaches admitted they expected Rice to be too beat-up to be effective on the second day. While many players had bruises, cuts, sprains, and general soreness going into the A&M match, to a man they stepped up to prove that they were the best team in Texas. With the match slipping away, the Aggies frustrations built up and some of their players tried to shake the Owls resolve. The Aggies called for a scrum after Rice committed a penalty inside its own 22 and as the players were preparing to pack down, the Rice Assistant coaches shouted encouragement to the forwards that had been dominating the set pieces throughout the match: If they want a scrum; we ll give them a scrum! Sure enough, the undersized but better skilled Rice front-row of Phil, Garrett, and Chucky pushed the Aggies back and Vaughan got the ball out cleanly to flyhalf Nickie Darling who laced a beauty of a kick from his own tryzone to the Aggies 40m where it bounced out of bounds. As Nickie was starting to chase his own kick, the frustrated openside flanker from A&M threw an elbow into Nicks eye opening up a cut that took at least 20 stitches to close. The resulting penalty gave Rice the ball in A&M territory and Rice extended their lead to win easily.
In the second round of Westerns, Rice beat Truman State behind some fantastic lineout work and crash balls from Number 8 Judd Smith. The Owls were consistently putting Truman on the back foot by breaking both the gainline and multiple tackles, and then getting good ball to the backs in space. With the win, Rice qualified for Nationals for the second time in four years. The next day in a typical spring thunderstorm in Houston, the Rice Owls were outplayed by eventual number 2 Wyoming giving the Owls some extra motivation for their Sweet 16 preparation.
In West Point, the Owls lost to Army (who went on to place 3rd in the nation) on the first day and blasted Princeton on day two. The win over Princeton was the first time a Rice team won in the Sweet 16 tournament. The win combined with losing to number 2 and 3 gave Rice a 9th place finished based on the seed given to the West second seed to the 2001 USA Rugby National Championships.