Loyola’s men’s rugby team has made two huge steps towards its goal of defending its title of Chicago Area Rugby Football Union (CAR- FU) champions by defeating DePaul University on Sept. 20 and Northwestern University on Sept. 28.
In their second game of the season, the Ramblers outscored the Blue Demons 46-19.
Junior John Lewis scored the first try of the game against DePaul. After the opening try, Loyola continued to dominate. The Ramblers only allowed DePaul to score three tries, all in the first half, while they scored eight tries throughout the entire game.
Lewis, along with fellow juniors Brendan Courtois and Caleb Bierbrodt and senior Thomas Finnegan each scored one try, while sopho- more Reed Ronan and senior Brennan Martin added two more tries each to the Ramblers’ score.
Ronan’s two tries earned him the “Man of the Match” distinction. Though the game against DePaul was an important step toward winning the CARFU title, Northwestern was the Ramblers’ biggest competition.
Each season, the teams compete for the North Side Cup, a trophy that has been passed between Loyola and Northwestern for the past 25 years. Loyola has been the reigning champion since 2011, which means that the 12 seniors on the team this year have never seen their team lose the cup.
That record stands for one more year, as the Ramblers bested the Wildcats 64-0.
“We felt like the underclassmen shared our excitement to defend the North Side Cup. They came out and gave a dominant performance,” said the team captain, senior Tim Schultz.
Bierbrodt, who plays the position hooker, was awarded Man of the Match.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve built this program from being a dominant Chicago team to pursuing a run at Division II Nationals,” Schultz said.
Because the Ramblers have already beat University of Illinois Chicago, DePaul and Northwestern, they are close to winning the CARFU title, which goes to the team with the best record at the end of the season.
Many people do not know the rules of rugby because it isn’t a widely popular sport in the U.S. The main objective is to rack up points by scoring tries. A try is comparable to a touchdown in football and is worth five points. Just as in football, when the team scores a try, it has the opportunity to score a conversion, which is the same as the extra point in football. In rugby, however, the conversion is worth two points. Unlike football, players are only allowed to pass the ball backwards.
In defense, players cannot tackle the opponents leading with their heads and players cannot block. If a player is knocked out of bounds, the opposing team gets possession of the ball. As soon as the player with the ball is tackled, he must immediately release the ball, keeping it in play.
The three main leaders of Loyola’s team are Coach Sean Cooney, President Amine Houri and Schultz. They hope that rugby will become a varsity sport, rather than a club sport, both at Loyola and nationwide.
“There is no such thing as NCAA in men’s rugby,” said Schultz, a 21-year-old political science major. “Even though rugby is considered a club sport, rugby is still rugby. It is one of the toughest sports in the country.”
Another way the team leaders are attempting to attract more interest in rugby is by reaching out to younger athletes.
Schultz is an intern with USA Rugby and the Illinois Youth Rugby Association. Through his internship, he has been going to 55 Chicago schools per month, ranging from first grade to high school, introducing them to rookie rugby, which is a type of flag rugby. So far, he has helped train 30,000 students in the greater Chicagoland area.
“With this program, we are hoping to grow from a city that doesn’t have much rugby to a city that has rugby from the first grade level all the way to the high school level,” Schultz said.
The momentum created by getting younger children involved with rugby may eventually lead to more interest in the sport as a whole, Schultz said. Though rugby is not yet an official NCAA sport, it is on a list of emerging sports that may one day soon become an NCAA Division I sport.
For now, the club team continues its season against the University of Chicago on Oct. 11, which is the next step to obtaining the CARFU championship title.