Rugby starts spring season

Jessie Hellmann

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The University of Southern Indiana’s rugby club, coming off a state championship during the fall season in the Indiana Rugby Football Union, ventures to excel against a stronger schedule in the spring season. And so far, it has.

USI, ranked 13th of 210 teams in the nation, beat Michigan State 16-10 on March 23.

Tyler Pipes, the team’s captain, said fall is the “conference season” and spring is an exhibition season.

This spring, the members are focusing on scheduling games with prominent Division I teams to up their rankings and prepare for next fall. 

“We decided early on that we were ready to test the waters for the next levels up,” Pipes said.

But with bad weather and unforeseen circumstances, a number of matches have been cancelled this spring.

The team had a game scheduled with Purdue University but “rough weather” led to its cancellation.

USI and Tennessee Tech University were also scheduled to play, but several injuries prohibited the visiting Golden Eagles from making the trip, Pipes said.

“Teams normally treat it a little better,” Pipes said. “We’ve just had rough weather and bad luck with other teams getting banged up.”

Next up, the Eagles will continue their exhibition schedule, playing Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) Saturday and Ball State University April 20.

USI will finish up the season a week later with a current members versus USI rugby alumni on April 27.

Pipes said while the team experiences success, being unknown and unsupported by the student body can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

“Of course we’d all like to be stars on campus and throughout the community,” Pipes said. “It would be nice if the student body knew more about us, even nicer if they were just more informed about the sport itself. But at the same time, it gives us a bit more drive to know we’re supporting ourselves quite a lot,” Pipes added.

He said the university has, however, done wonders with supporting the team with traveling expenses, including hotel costs.

“Now all we’re asking for is a little more support on Saturdays,” Pipes said. “The big home crowds can throw off a visiting team, and it’s always nice to have some cheers from the touch line.”

Pipes said the team has about 30 players, and most come in with little experience.

“We teach almost all players from nothing,” Pipes said.

He said “spectacular” coaching from Patrick Odoyo, who played for Kenya’s national team, and Kurt Murell, who played for a few teams in the New Jersey area, also play a vital role in player development.

With solid coaching and dedicated players, beating schools such as Michigan State University are key to the club’s success.

Jordan Cravens, a second-year USI rugby player and open-side flanker for the team, said a statement win against Michigan State was salutary for USI’s status.

“(Michigan State) is a D1 college that everyone knows, and we are just little USI,” Cravens said. “Beating them puts us on the map. Beating them makes me feel like we can compete with any team we face, no matter how big of a school they are.”

Luke Jackson, a wing and fullback for the team who is out for injuries this year, said the team has experienced challenges recently.

“They are riding the momentum of a huge win over (Western Kentucky University) and will carry that into this weekend against EKU,” Cravens said. “The big game for them will be against Ball State on the following weekend. That game will be a real test of what level they can compete at.”

He said recruiting has improved this year, and training on and off the field has improved along with it.

“They have a chance to become a staple of this institution by continuing their winning ways, and a force to be reckoned with within the rugby community,” Jackson said.

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