What is the men’s rugby team doing this spring?

Carolyn Drummond

VIEW photos of a Rugby game.

Walking past the Centennial fields this spring, students shouldn’t be surprised if they see thirty men running full speed and tackling one another in pursuit of a ball. The game might look like football – or maybe soccer – but it’s really a combination of the two. It’s rugby.

“It looks like a big mess, but it’s really a logical game once you understand it,” sophomore back Zach Wallenhorst said.

The Kent State men’s rugby club is using this semester to develop the basic skills of the sport. The spring is time for rugby clubs to practice and prepare for the fall competition season.

This past fall the team advanced to the Midwest Final Four and finished the season just one win away from the national championship.

“They’ve had a taste of success,” Kent State coach Donnie Harbert said.

Now he wants the players to put forth effort that shows they are committed to the team.

Junior back Bryan Bowen said coaching is essential to the team.

“It’s that kick in the ass we need to show up at practice,” Bowen said.

Harbert took over the team this semester after Kent State coach Adam Rapp moved on to Clemson University.

“He really got the guys where they are today,” Harbert said.

The club is using this spring to rebuild. After the fall season, several seniors left. Now the team is welcoming new recruits.

“Get out there and get thrown in a game,” Wallenhorst said.

The players said rugby is a sport that everyone can play.

“People think it’s impossible, but there is a position for everyone – whether you’re big, small, slow or fast,” sophomore forward Ian McEntee said.

Sophomore back Preston Lowden said there is only one catch.

“If you’re reading this, you should come try it out,” Lowden said. “If you can hit somebody.”

Along with being a form of exercise, rugby offers the chance for friendship among teammates.

“We always have each other’s backs, whether we’re on the pitch or off of it,” senior back K.C. Gardella said.

Most of the players hang out together away from rugby, and several live together.

“It’s almost like a fraternity,” junior back Mike Sciolino said. “You have brotherhood and team camaraderie.”

Many players stay involved with rugby after graduation. In the fall the Kent State club celebrated its fortieth anniversary and more than 30 players participated in the alumni game.

“Rugby is something that kind of sticks with you,” McEntee said.

That bond extends to other rugby clubs as well. The sport is unique in that after each game there is a social, or “third quarter,” organized by the home team.

“We’re able to beat each other up on the field and hang out afterward,” Gardella said.

However, when the Kent State players beat up their opponents, they’re not worrying about shaking hands later.

“We have a very rough team,” sophomore forward Brian Havran said. “We run straight at them [the opponent] and say, ‘Try to stop us.'”

While many college clubs focus on speed, Kent State focuses on playing an aggressive, physical game.

That style of play will be on display April 11 when the Flashes face the Cleveland Rovers on the rugby pitch located at the corner of Route 261 and Campus Center Drive, next to the baseball fields.

The team encourages students to give rugby a chance by trying the sport or watching a game.

“It will be the best experience of your life,” Gardella said. “That’s a guarantee.”

Contact club sports reporter Carolyn Drummond at [email protected].