Rugby uses new plays in hopes to return to championships


Tess Riecke

The rugby men practice for their upcoming season. Last season the men qualified for post-season games, but lost in the National small college 7-on-7 Sweet Sixteen. Many seniors graduated last year, so the team is filling in big holes.

Alex Eller, Staff Writer

The Wayne State College men’s and women’s rugby teams look to build off of strong performances from a year ago as they start their upcoming 2016-2017 rugby season.

Each team qualified for the postseason last year, with the men losing in the small college 7-on-7 Sweet Sixteen and the women winning the national championship for the fifth time in five years.

This recent success is in large part due to the relationship the players have with each other, whether on the practice field or just on campus.

“We are more of a family than a team. Playing together has allowed us the opportunity to work great with each other and become great friends on and off the field,” senior, Kelsa Mills senior said.

With lots of returning talent from last year, the Lady ‘Cats look ready to take another stab at the national championship in the upcoming year.

“We have thirteen of our fifteen starters returning this year, and all eyes are on the Wayne State College women to return to the Final Four and go for another title,” Darren Barner, coach of WSC rugby teams said.

Last year, the women traveled to New York City to take part in the national championships at the $8 million Anderson Rugby Field. After winning their fourth national championship, the team celebrated with a night of sightseeing in Manhattan, including the Statue of Liberty, Broadway and Times Square.

In October 2001, Barner, a WSC alum and former football player for the Wildcats from 1985 to 1988, started the Wildcat rugby program and has been a part of the program ever since.

The men’s team have more work on their hands, as they try to replace players from a senior loaded team.

“The men’s team was very senior heavy in the backfield, and will need incoming freshmen to fill some holes, especially at the scrum,” Barner said.

Barner hopes to fill some of these holes with some incoming freshman who are blue-chip Division I players, who have chosen Wayne for their rugby program and education.

Along with the early season drama of filling in some final starting roster spots, each team will have to take hold of a new pro-style offense that will be brought to the table this year.

Barner had the opportunity to go work with a professional team this summer and will bring back several tools that he hopes will make both offenses more explosive and dynamic.

“The big things for us will be communication, and running our new pro-offense. It is a ‘read and react’ offense, the equivalent of a run and gun offense, which is very fast pace,” Barner said. “When running right, it is one of the hardest styles of offenses to stop, as it requires fast play-making ability along with stamina.”

As both teams look forward to the beginning of another grueling year of rugby at Wayne State, it’s fair to say there is more than a little bit of pressure on each squad to perform well at a high level.

The bar has been set high over recent years with the substantial amount of success that both programs have experienced, and it would be easy for the teams to falter and take a step back, but this is no ordinary place.

“When we step on the field this fall, I expect us to be just as successful as we have been in the past. I expect to go out there and win every game,” Mills said.

The season kickoffs off on Friday, as the teams travel to Northern Iowa to take on the Panthers.