By JOSEPH KOBSAR
The UMW men’s rugby team is conquering 7-0 in their season, heading right for National Playoffs. The team is excited to have come along with such success and are aiming for the championship.
Formed in 1977 as Mother’s Rugby Club, the sport quickly grew in popularity and has a history of dominating against other universities. The team has already won the CCRC, USAR Fall, Cherry Blossom, and USAR D1AA National Championships in their 2017-2018 season.
Many of the players are preparing both mentally and physically as National Playoffs grow closer.
“The season has been going great. One challenge we’ve had has been team fitness but we have been pushing each other and improving. The coaching staff has been pushing us to constantly improve through building depth in players and therefore creating competition. Personally, I think I am pretty fit, but it’s the mental aspect that I have really been focusing on this year. Being aware, calm, and prepared. Rugby has many moving parts and involves a lot of thinking. I’m also a huge fan of the fundamental principles of rugby like respect and trust,” said sophomore Jose B. Reyes.
Teams are built off of respect and trust and with these two elements, success thrives. While most players are trying to increase motivation, others need to focus on rehabilitation and creating a stronger bond.
“This season has been going very well but there have been challenges. We’ve been plagued with numerous injuries to key players this season and our team chemistry isn’t what it was last year. We are making more mistakes than usual but the more we play together, the better we become. Our coaches have been great, as they always are. They are constantly pushing us, testing us, and preparing us for the big games we’ll face in the National Playoffs,” said Lewis Grant, a biology senior.
“I personally think that our team attitude towards some of our opponents needs to change. We aren’t seeing them as a big threat like we would in the past and I think it gives some people on the team the wrong mindset. I’m preparing for Nationals by maintaining and increasing my fitness and by honing my skills as a rugby player. I originally transferred to Mary Washington from Radford University after my freshman year. Coming to Mary Washington was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Grant.
Rugby is an exhausting sport on both the body and mind so players have to find a routine to stay sharp. While injuries and team attitudes have been detrimental to some players, it’s given opportunity for others to truly hone in and gain spotlight.
“Plenty of injuries have given lots of players a chance to play which has been beneficial because it’s helped our team develop. Training has been intense and the team is reaping the rewards on the weekend,” said Harry Masters, a junior and mathematics major.
This seasons weather has had its toll on the team’s accessibility to practice but that hasn’t killed the fire as they have already accomplished so much.
“We’ve beaten teams by large margins and expect to continue that pattern into the playoffs. The weather has been challenging, causing us to rearrange the schedule and have practice off the pitch but we’ve managed well,” said senior Ethan Hicks.
“We are preparing the same way we did last year: focusing on week-by-week issues of who we play next and addressing shortcomings from the last game. Essentially, we are all committed to increasing our level of rugby every practice, every gym session, and every game,” said Hicks.
The championship games will be on Dec. 1 and 2. With eagerness in the air and teeth gritting, the team is clearly ready. Leading the group is head coach Min Sae Chae, who has been with the rugby team for 5 years and head coach for 4 years. Previously a high school coach in Springfield, his team achieved multiple state titles and even a Tier 2 High School National Championship in 2015.
“Last year I was fortunate enough to go to Christchurch, New Zealand for a few weeks and do a coaching program with the Crusaders Super Rugby franchise. They are the New England Patriots for the rugby world. College rugby is a rising sport and there are more and more “varsity” programs emerging every year, ” said Chae.
“We are officially a “team” sport with some varsity privileges and benefits. The biggest difference being funding and salaries for coaching. The Athletic Department has given us a little more every year but we are far from a true D1 team. We have made our case to be a true varsity program. The biggest reason being our success on the field and our recruiting numbers driving student enrollment. Especially both internationally and out-of-state,” said Chae.
“Our season has gone well so far. We lost a tough one to the Naval Academy by 1 point. They are ranked #7 nationally in D1A while we are #1 nationally in D1-AA. Its like JMU playing Ohio State. We have dealt with a lot of injuries but the silver lining is that we have been able to really develop our depth and improve our overall pool of players,” said Chae.
This weekend men’s rugby will have the National quarter final vs West Chester on the Nov. 17 and if they win, the semi-final vs either Kentucky or Bowling Green. These matches will be played down at ECU.