SIU Rugby: Battling on the pitch since 1972

Freshman+lock+Marissa+Ziegler%2C+left%2C+and+sophomore+wing+Gabriella+Johnson+attempt+to+stop+an+opponent+Saturday+Sept.+30%2C+2017%2C+during+the+Salukis%E2%80%99+27-15+win+against+the+Western+Illinois+University+Leathernecks+at+the+SIU+Upper+Arena+Pitch+in+Carbondale.+

Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz

Freshman lock Marissa Ziegler, left, and sophomore wing Gabriella Johnson attempt to stop an opponent Saturday Sept. 30, 2017, during the Salukis’ 27-15 win against the Western Illinois University Leathernecks at the SIU Upper Arena Pitch in Carbondale.

By Jacob Selsor

Rugby at SIU is one of the school’s many hidden traditions, with roots firmly planted in the 1970’s — known as the “Me Decade”. But there is no “me” in rugby, only brothers- and sisters -in-arms on the pitch.

The men’s team is currently taking part in their fall 15’s season, where teams of 15 players battle for 80 minutes on a 100-meter-long field known as a rugby pitch. During the spring and summer, they take part in 7’s, or seven players on each side.

Two years ago the team advanced to the 2015 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships at the University of Denver in Colorado for the first time in program history, finishing in ninth place among twelve teams.

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The men are a part of the Gateway Conference, which includes teams from Central Missouri, Missouri S&T, Principia, SLU, Southern Illinois and UMKC. Twice a year the teams meet in the Gateway Conference Championships — once for 15’s in the fall and again for 7’s in the spring — with the winner earning a bid into the national tournament.

Salukis senior outside center Jake Soriano, center, darts past opposing teammates Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, during a men’s rugby practice at the SIU Upper Arena Pitch in Carbondale.(Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Last year the team finished second in the conference tournament, just barely missing nationals when they fell to the Principia Thunder Chickens in the championship match. Despite last year’s second place conference finish, the Salukis began this season by beating the rival Thunder Chickens 46-28 Sept. 16 at home on the upper arena pitch.

“They’ve been a competitor for the last four years that I’ve been playing for SIU,” senior captain Kris Coleman said. “We’ve had a lot of success with the guys that come out every season. A few of us played in high school but most have learned the sport through our club.”

The same can be said about the women’s team, which is the self-proclaimed most-diverse registered student organization.

“We’ve had a lot of people that had no experience come in and do just fine,” junior treasurer Alexis Simpson said. “Everyone here all gets along … we love anyone no matter what race, gender or orientation.”

The women’s team is currently taking part in its 15’s season in the Illinois Collegiate Women’s Rugby Conference (ICWRC).

“Last spring we experienced a big turnaround,” sophomore social chair Samantha Kupitz said. “When we first started out we had 10 new people playing, so we had no idea what we were doing the first game. As the season progressed we got better and better and eventually took second place in a tournament in New Orleans.”

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Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University go into a scrum Saturday Sept. 30, 2017, during the Salukis’ 27-15 win against the Leathernecks at the SIU Upper Arena Pitch in Carbondale. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

One common theme among rugby players, or ruggers, is their adherence to tradition. Every spring the alumni from both the men’s and women’s team come back to SIU for an annual event called “Old Loads.”

According to Coleman, Old Loads is a fun-filled weekend that has roots dating back to the formation of the SIU rugby organizations. It features a bar crawl Friday night followed by a friendly match between the current players and alumni Saturday.

“Old Loads is the best time of the year for rugby,” Simpson said.

The bond is bigger than between just alumni and actives, it extends to other teams as well.

“We hang out [with other teams] before and after games,” Kupitz said. “Sometimes they even let us stay with them. It’s super-friendly, almost like a sorority.”

Salukis senior inside center Andrew Canedo receives a pass from a teammate Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, during a men’s rugby practice at the SIU Upper Arena Pitch in Carbondale. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

SIU rugby hosts a tournament every year called the All Fools Rugby Classic — with the 28th annual coming this spring — which features around 16 teams. Both Southern teams walked away last year with the traditional bull horn trophies that go to the champions of the Classic.

Men’s president Coleman stressed that in order to continue the great tradition that is SIU Rugby, the teams need players. Information on practice times and scheduled games can be found on SIU Mens Rugby Club facebook page and the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Women’s Rugby Club page.

“They just need to come out to rugby practice,” Coleman said. “we’ll get them out and throw them right in the mix.”

Sports reporter Jacob Selsor can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jacobselsor_DE.

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