After a blowout 68-0 win over Washington University in St. Louis in the first round of the Division II Men’s National Championship Nov. 12, the Loyola men’s rugby team will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee to compete in the Sweet 16 in a win or go home match.
Junior hooker Joshua Kliment said the team fell short of expectations last year after finishing the season with a 2-2 record. This season, they finished the regular season with a 4-1 record, capped off by four straight wins to finish second in the Great Midwest South division.
“It was a great win for the team,” first-year flanker Tadhg Scanlon said, “We played very well. We had our offense really killing it out there.”
Scanlon, who had no prior rugby experience before joining the team, said he has found a home with his newfound teammates.
“It’s really a brotherhood,” Scanlon said. “It’s a family, and I just think it builds a very close-knit team, and that’s part of the reason we’re so successful.”
Despite his initial unfamiliarity with the sport, Scanlon credits the deep connection between teammates as the main reason he continues to play rugby.
Before every game, the team gathers under the uprights and sings 2005 pop-rock classic “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy. In his first year with the team, Kliment said he asked a teammate why they performed this enthusiastic pregame ritual. “It’s because we do it,” was the answer.
The Ramblers continue to perform the pre-game ritual to bring the team together before every game. Even Coach Sal Carfagno, who began playing rugby during his first year at Loyola in 2018, admits he does not know the tradition’s origins and said it was around before his time on the team.
Carfagno said the team had to start from scratch after losing several coaches and players as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After missing the postseason last year with a 2-2 record, the Ramblers overcame adversity and excelled thanks to a surge of new players joining the team.
“It’s a new era of Loyola rugby,” Carfagno said. “When I was a freshman in 2018, we barely got enough guys to field a 15 team at a practice, and we were struggling to get pads or rugby balls out. Now we have 30 guys every practice.”
Besides a change in team culture, Carfagno said the team’s roster size was a major contribution to its success. He said that in a sport as physical as rugby, depth is of high importance considering the players’ high exposure to injuries.
Carfagno also said this year’s success was essential to keep the team’s morale high after missing the playoffs in 2020 and 2021.
“Being able to prove to ourselves that we were good again was something that was really important,” Carfagno said.
Carfagno said he hopes to build on the team’s success as the Ramblers head to Knoxville to face Auburn University in the Sweet 16 Nov. 18. With Auburn coming off of a 36-12 victory over the University of Memphis, Scanlon said the team needs to stay true to its fundamentals and play its style of rugby to find success against a team as tough as Auburn.
“Auburn is a great team,” Scanlon said. “So kinda just have to do the same thing we’ve been doing all season — put our head down and play our rugby.”
If the Ramblers win, they will advance to the Elite 8 and play Nov. 20. If they lose, they will play a consolation match instead. If the Ramblers win on both Nov. 18 and 20, they will travel to Houston for the Final Four of the Men’s Collegiate National Championship.
Regardless of the outcome, the Ramblers said they are a threat for years to come after making the playoffs and finding success in nationals. As a club sport, the team is always eager for newcomers and Kliment said anyone is welcome.