‘It was an incredible journey’: Yelm alum Mathis reflects on experience with WWU National 7’s Championship team

Yelm alum Mathis reflects on experience with WWU National 7’s Championship team


Yelm High School class of 2018 graduate Nathan Mathis recently achieved a lifetime athletic accomplishment by competing for and winning the College Rugby Association of America’s (CRAA) men’s D1AA National 7’s Championship as part of Western Washington University’s (WWU) team.

The Vikings defeated the Iowa State Cyclones, 38-12, in the semifinals of the national tournament before shutting out the Oregon Ducks, 21-0, to become D1AA National 7’s champions.

“[Oregon is] our big rival. Getting the chance to beat them 21-0 in the final on the home field was honestly one of the top feelings in my life, and it’s not two or three,” Mathis said. “It was an incredible journey, and it was so fitting that we got to finish it off on our field, in front of our fans. We got to control our own narrative, our own story.”

WWU was one of 10 programs that qualified for the national tournament, which included the University of Oregon, the University of Iowa, San Jose State, Texas State, the University of Texas San Antonio, Sam Houston State University, Stanford, Iowa State and the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference select team.

The Vikings also hosted the national tournament this year, which added to an already memorable national championship victory, Mathis said.

“It was the first time we got to host nationals in a long time,” he said. “Of course, there’s some added pressure because you’re in front of your home crowd. All of your friends and family are there. But we had a really, really exciting journey during the tournament.”

Mathis said WWU went 6-0 throughout the tournament, including an opening-round victory against the Texas State Bobcats.

“Texas State was the first team, and I think that set the tone,” Mathis said. “We beat them pretty bad, and from there on out, it was pretty much ‘we know we got this.’ We just had to play up to our standards.”

The Vikings eventually qualified for the All-Northwest National Championship matchup against the Oregon Ducks. Mathis noted that WWU also defeated Oregon in the D1AA Northwest Regional Tournament championship. The regional tourney also included the University of Washington, Oregon State University, Boise State University and the University of Oregon. WWU went 6-0 in its matches.

“This year, we had a pretty special team. We had a couple guys that came from overseas and helped take us to another level this season,” Mathis said. “We’ve been pretty close before. In 15’s this year, which is kind of the other version of rugby, we came one game short of the national championship. We lost by one point to our national rivals, [the] University of San Diego.”

The loss to San Diego during 15’s and the desire for redemption ultimately led Mathis and WWU right back to the 7’s national tournament.

“It was time to avenge this. We knew that we could be the national champs and that there wasn’t a team out there that could beat us in 7’s,” Mathis said. “We had the personnel, we had the great guys, we had what we needed, and there was a ton of motivation coming in.”

During his time in Bellingham, Mathis earned two degrees, including kinesiology pre-health care and physical education in health. He’s aiming to become a physical education teacher.

“I’m hoping to be a coach Q [Jason Ronquillo] some day,” Mathis said. “That’s the end goal. If I could be half the man he is, I’d call myself a success.”

Mathis, a former YHS football athlete, said his time with Ronquillo and the Tornado football program has ultimately shaped his athletic career and recent coaching endeavors at Whatcom Middle School and Sehome High School in Bellingham. He recalled a lesson learned about accountability during the Tornados’ trip to the George Fox University football camp in 2017, which has stood out to him the most.

“A couple guys had snuck out during the night to go do whatever, and we got some knocks at the door at 3 a.m. telling us to get to the field. We were sent out to the field, and I remember all the guys that snuck off campus were up in the stands watching us run sprint after sprint,” Mathis said. “I remember coach Q talking about accountability and how what each person does affects the whole.

“I think about that moment a lot. That lesson from coach Q really stuck with me and it’s a lesson I think about quite frequently,” Mathis added. “Being accountable and being responsible for your own actions and how they affect your team  is one of the most important things you can take away from sports in general. There’s a lot of moments that have stuck with me from my time in Yelm, but a lot of the accountability moments of what it takes to be a good teammate and a good man were really some precious moments that have helped shape me for sure.”