When Union’s men’s club rugby team opened league play with a 102-0 thrashing of St. Lawrence University in early September, the result served as a precursor that this season could be something special.
But few could have predicted the Dutchmen would enter this weekend’s National Small College Rugby Organization’s Division III regional tournament in New Hampshire with a perfect 9-0 mark and their sights set on a national championship.
“We have a good shot,” said club president Adam Miller ’14, who plays prop on the team. “We really work hard together, and if we stick to our game plan, we should be OK.”
Coached by James Ferguson and led by captains Justin Dempsey ’14 (scrum half) and Lucas Comstock ’14 (second row), the Dutchman rolled to a 6-0 regular season mark in the Empire Upstate League. After the opening win against St. Lawrence, the team knocked off Siena, Paul Smith’s, SUNY-Oneonta, Clarkson and SUNY-Potsdam, outscoring their opponents by a staggering 251-50 margin.
In the league playoffs, the team defeated Alfred University at Rugby Field before traveling to Syracuse, where they beat Paul Smith’s a second time, 20-17, to capture the league championship. Last weekend, the Dutchmen edged Bowdoin College, 17-15 at home in the Region 1 Northeast qualifier.
They now advance to the region’s semifinals, where, on Saturday, the team will face perennial power Salve Regina at New England College in Henniker, N.H. A small Catholic college in Newport, R.I., Salve Regina is the defending national champion and was runner-up in the championship game the year before. The other match in Union’s bracket pits New England College against Central Connecticut State.
If Union comes out a winner this weekend, it will advance to the national semifinals in Glendale, Colo., in April.
As a club team, Miller admits the 35 to 40 players aren’t as easily recognizable on campus as say, the men’s Division I hockey team, which advanced to the Frozen Four two years ago. But he has noticed more fans prowling the sidelines of Rugby Field this season.
“We’re used to not getting much recognition,” said Miller, an economics major from Latham, N.Y. “People don’t talk about us much on campus.”
He knows that could change if the team continues its winning ways this weekend.
“We’re confident,” Miller said. “If we keep playing the way we have all season, we can do this.”