The MTSU Rugby Football Club fell short of its bid for a national title last weekend during the USA Rugby National Championship series.
The squad left Friday to compete in the Sweet 16 of the 2013-14 Men’s Division IAA College National Championship. The team fell to the University of Missouri team Saturday, April 26, in Bowling Green, Ohio, with a spot in Sunday’s Elite 8 on the line.
For MTSU Rugby head coach Jody Hensley, an adjunct professor who teaches rugby classes and volunteers to coach the team, the opportunity to play against the country’s top rugby teams was a godsend following his team’s disappointment of not winning its conference title and gaining an automatic bid to the tournament.
The team landed an at-large berth “based on our body of work” following an impressive 10-2 season, Hensley said prior to their Sweet 16 trip. And while a loss in the conference championship game stung, the chance to get back out on the playing field — also called “the pitch” in rugby — brought satisfaction.
“I’m proud of the team. These guys are very talented,” Hensley said. “Losing in the conference championships was devastating in a way, but we’ve got a second chance.”
While men’s rugby is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, it is a fast growing club sport on college campuses nationwide, Hensley said, adding that the MTSU team boasts a strong alumni association that helps provide scholarship for promising players. On campus, the men’s and women’s rugby are overseen by Campus Recreation.
Hensley said the MTSU team usually has 30 to 35 students participating, with the team divided into two squads — a starting squad of the best players and a developmental squad of younger or less experienced players. The team competes in the South Independent Rugby Conference of USA Rugby.
MTSU’s team, which was established in the fall of 1980, has competed in the Elite 8 before, finishing as high as sixth in the country one year, but hasn’t made such a deep run in the national tournament in over a decade, Hensley said.
Besides fielding a team in Ohio last weekend, MTSU had other connections there as well. The Division I women’s collegiate rugby playoffs also held games, and the University of North Carolina’s women’s team that defeated Harvard University on Saturday is coached by Johnathan Atkeison, an MTSU men’s rugby alumnus and also a coach on the USA Women’s Rugby National Team.
USA Rugby is the sport’s national governing body and a full sport member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Rugby Board. Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, USA Rugby oversees over 900 college teams, according to usarugby.org.
For more information about the MTSU club, visit http://www.mtsurugby.com.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)