After a strong 2014-15 campaign, the Loyola men’s club rugby team failed to meet the same expectations last year. This season, the Ramblers were determined to make a new name for themselves, according to the team captain, senior Reed Ronan.
The Ramblers proved just that on Oct. 15, when the team defeated DePaul University to win the coveted Red Line Cup. This win gave the team a 3-2 fall season finish — better than the season prior — but the Ramblers are still hungry for more, Ronan said.
With victories over the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), DePaul University and Illinois Wesleyan University, the team has made major steps toward becoming a contender in the Wisconsin Iowa Illinois (WIIL) conference of Division II USA Rugby.
Ronan said it is important for the team to be considered the best in Chicago for recruiting purposes and to honor its alumni, who have a history of success.
“It means a lot to be the best team in Chicago because this is our city and rugby is important to the people on this team as well as the men’s clubs and other teams out there supporting us,” said Ronan.
The team has reclaimed its crown as one of the most dominant club rugby teams in Chicago after last season’s struggles: the team had only four first-year recruits, and because six seniors had left the previous year, the team experienced a lack of experienced leadership. This year, the team has a strong core of 12 seniors, but a large first-year group gives the team hope for the upcoming playoffs and for the future of the program, according to Ronan.
This year’s team is highlighted by eight four-year starters and three rookies — Ryan Maxfield, Jim Melody and Jeff Juracka — who have earned their way into the starting lineup.
The team had a tough loss in the season opener on Sept. 10 at Northern Iowa University 25-19. After a week of rest, the team responded to its week-one defeat by trouncing UIC 76-5. In that game, nine different Ramblers each scored a try. A try is similar to a touchdown in football but worth five points rather than six, with an extra point conversion such as a field goal being worth two points rather than one.
The momentum from the UIC game didn’t last when the team played Illinois State University, which is ranked No. 1 in the WIIL. After 80 minutes of battle, the Redbirds shut out the Ramblers 41-0.
Ronan said the team focuses on one game at a time and doesn’t dwell on the brutal loss. The Ramblers went on to beat the Blue Demons 31-12, bringing the Red Line Cup trophy back to Rogers Park once again. After Illinois Wesleyan University forfeited its match against Loyola, the Ramblers moved to 3-2, which is where they sit as they wait to discover their playoff fate.
Going forward his revival from last season’s loss to DePaul will help the team be competitive against powerhouse teams in their conference. The team looks to further improve in upcoming spring season, as well as seasons beyond that, with an exciting rookie class that has already made big contributions already. Four times as many new players as last years team with 15 freshmen joining the team, according to Ronan
“Going into the spring, we’re looking to develop our young players and build this team from the ground up so we can be as successful as possible,” said Ronan
Ronan said that with its 15 first-years, the team has a lot of potential. If they all develop well, he said the team will likely be contenders in the WIIL for years to come.
“In the next few years, I can see this team exploding in terms of winning percentage and results and [becoming] a serious contender every year,” Ronan said. “Our rookie class is full of talent eager to play and contribute and is a great improvement from years past.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to start playoffs on Oct. 29. The playoff schedule has not been officially released by the conference yet.