UWRF rugby team reaching new heights
October 28, 2011
For the first time since 2006, the UW-River Falls men’s rugby team reached the elusive final four in the Minnesota State Championships. However, UWRF took it one-step further by beating Bethel University to reach the semifinals before falling to St. Thomas in the finals.
UWRF competes in a league called the Minnesota Union. The Union is composed of 13 teams from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. According to senior Crague Cook, UWRF competes in Minnesota because it is closer than traveling to places such as Green Bay or Madison.
UWRF earned a spot in the final four by winning their pool, which consisted of St. Thomas, Carleton, Macalester and St. Olaf. There are three pools in the Union, two of which have four teams, and the other, five. UWRF won their pool to earn a spot in the final four. All pool winners received a birth. The final spot was given to a wild card team.
In the semi-finals, UWRF beat Bethel University. This matched them up against St. Thomas, the wild card team, but also a team they had beaten just a week before. However, several severe injuries to key players in the first half of the finals allowed St. Thomas to sneak by and beat UWRF.
Jesse Engen, a senior and captain of the team, suffered a dislocated ankle, which will require surgery later on. Other injuries included concussions, which forced UWRF to play with less experience. Cook added that he “has never seen a game where so many people dropped like flies.”
“It is hard to maintain the game flow when so many injuries are happening,” said team President Mark Ineichen.
Ineichen is one of six seniors on this year’s rugby team, which had a great core of experience and plenty of new faces. The new players have stepped up to the plate, even during the tough conditions, added Cook.
Cook has been playing rugby since high school, but the state championships were his final competition. Travis Spencer, Eric Gates and Jason Anderson round out the seniors who put the UWRF jersey on for their final season. For some players, like Engen, competing for UWRF was the first time they have ever played rugby. Nevertheless, four years later, Engen was voted team captain and was instrumental to this year’s team success.
Teammates Cook, Ineichen and Sam Gartmann had nothing but praise for Engen, who helped run the practices and get the players in condition for the grueling rugby season. UWRF is one of few teams that have a player-coach.
The rugby team at UWRF has 38 players. Cook described rugby as a mixture of soccer and football. “Rugby came from soccer, and from rugby came football,” said Cook. The game is played with 15 players on the field with continuous time consisting of two 40-minute halves. The main difference, or unique rule said Cook, is that in rugby you have to pass backwards. Ineichen added that even though rugby is played without pads, the rules are designed to protect the players. Cook explained a main difference when it comes to tackling. “In football you can just full-out go and tackle someone. But in rugby, you have to completely wrap around the person before you can tackle them,” said Cook.
Gartmann described the experience of playing rugby as a “full-body workout in which you have to be in top condition.” This top condition has led UWRF to be one of the best programs throughout the Midwest. Even though they will lose several seniors heading into next season, Gartmann says there is “a lot of promise for the future.”
UWRF is now waiting to hear if they received a berth to the Midwest Playoffs. If they make it, it would be a first in UWRF history.