Family Found with Loyola Club Men’s Rugby

Loyola’s club men’s rugby built itself up from the ground — skill, ability and community.

From a team that could barely fill a roster to winning a national championship at the highest level this past season, Loyola men’s club rugby prides itself on the community they’ve built.

Head coach of the club team Sal Carfagno said rugby has been a part of his life since before he came to Loyola as a student in 2018. After completing his undergraduate degree in 2022, Carfagno decided to stay with the university to pursue a master’s degree in healthcare administration.

After Carfagno’s final year, the team’s previous coach left Loyola and Carfagno put his trust into the returning players on the team to find a new coach, which he thought would be an easy task since the rugby community in Chicago is large and still growing. But when the players returned to him with no options, Carfagno stepped into the interim position before taking it on full time in the fall of 2023. 

“They said, ‘Well why don’t you just coach in the interim until we find someone?’” Carfagno said. “So I got my coaching certificate and was just thinking I’ll just do it for a season and then I fell in love with it.”

Joining Loyola rugby wasn’t on the radar for Carfagno when he first enrolled. He said he looked up information on Facebook about the organization and attended practices and never turned back. 

“We weren’t really a big presence when I first started,” Carfagno said. “I came out to a practice, met a lot of the guys and just instantly fell in love with it.” 

Many of the players on the team share similar experiences in joining the team. 

Fourth-year management information systems major Demetri Karris said it took him two years at Loyola to join the organization after quitting junior hockey and returning to in-person school. With eight years of pre-college rugby experience, he said the team kept attempting to get him to join.

“They just kept reaching out,” Karris said. “I think that’s probably the way that over half these guys have gotten introduced. There are continuous efforts to acquire different talent and guys who are interested in playing a sport that isn’t typically played in America or sought after by most athletic players due to its physical nature.” 

Second-year political science major and new member of the team Matthew Slattery agreed, even though he’d never played rugby until this year. 

With experience playing football, baseball and track in high school, Slattery said learning a new sport was akin to “learning like a toddler” and translated what he knew from previous sports into the new and “complicated” rules of rugby.

“Learning how to pass was really difficult at first,” Slattery said. “But I just showed up to all the touch sessions and it kind of got easier.” 

Slattery said the familial community Loyola men’s rugby has is something he’s wanted to be a part of since coming to college. He said everyone on the team holds each other accountable and shows up for each other to reach the common goal.

Even though he and the other new members are still learning, Slattery said his passion for the sport continues to grow and quitting is nowhere in his future. 

“I’m still learning,” Slattery said. “I go home and I watch YouTube videos about rugby to learn.” 

The growth of the rugby community in Chicago has been a key factor in broadening the rugby program at Loyola, according to Carfagno. He said when he first joined the program, there weren’t enough players for a full line-up. 

Since then, with social media outreach, more players have joined the organization and players are now being recruited to come to Loyola just for the rugby program.

Marcos Voulgaris, a fourth-year business management major, joined the team after an assistant coach reached out to him through Instagram and asked him to join after transferring from Butler University in the second semester of his second year. 

Voulgaris wasn’t new to rugby when he came to Loyola. He said one of his friends from Ireland introduced him to the sport and he had interest in joining before the coach reached out to him. 

Similar to Slattery, Voulgaris played football in high school and still continues to play on the club team at Loyola. He said some of the aspects transfer over, such as running and getting the ball into the tri-zone, but adjusting to the rules took him some extra time. 

The family aspect of the team is a big part for Voulgaris, who said his teammates are what keeps him playing rugby. 

“They’re all good gentlemen,” Voulgaris said. “These are great people. They walk around campus with a chip on their shoulder doing good things. You come into an environment like that and you’re instantly accepted.” 

After he graduates this spring, Voulgaris said he hopes to continue playing rugby. The team has connections with Major League Rugby team the Chicago Hounds and hopes to build a relationship with them or other teams within the Chicagoland area. 

Featured Image by Andi Revesz | The Phoenix

Andi Revesz

Andi Revesz