Club Rugby enjoys best season in 18 years

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Club Rugby enjoys best season in 18 years

Photo courtesy of Marquette Rugby

Photo courtesy of Marquette Rugby

Photo courtesy of Marquette Rugby

Photo courtesy of Marquette Rugby

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Just three years ago, Marquette’s club rugby team ended its season without a single win.

Fast forward to this past season, and the club achieved an undefeated regular season with a run to the Sweet 16 before losing to Villanova 47-43 Nov. 17. It was the furthest run the team has had in the last 18 years in the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Tournament.

“It was a tremendous season and we accomplished a lot of our goals,” sophomore scrum-half Roy Bowler said. “We put Marquette’s name out there on the national stage.”

The team plays in the Great Midwest Conference, which has two divisions consisting of 13 other universities. Teams are made up of some Wisconsin schools as well as BIG EAST foe DePaul University. As a club sport, the GMC is outside of the NCAA and instead part of USA Rugby.

“It was probably the first time since I’ve been here that we really started to play dominant rugby,” senior club president Maxwell Boehnen said. “Going into our sixth game, we were outscoring opponents like 300 to 20.”

This season was a complete contrast to Boehnen’s freshman year in 2015, when the squad finished with an overall record of 0-6. The team is made up of mostly seniors. The fly-half said he identifies experience as a major reason for the team’s 2018 overall 8-1 finish. That record included being 6-0 during the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason. 

“We were rough,” Boehnen said. “When I first came in (we) were a relatively young team, and now we’re a relatively old team. I think as with anything, gaining more experience helped take us to where we are today.”

The club’s building year was in 2015 when they brought in new head coach Constanz Hartney.

“(Hartney) was basically taking over for a coachless team,” Boehnen said. “There wasn’t a lot of organization, but he took over and put us on the right path.”

Hartney was volunteer coach with the program when he was a graduate student in the 1980s. But he left to pursue his psychology practice and returned to Marquette club rugby in 2015.

He even coached notable Marquette rugby alumnus, late comedian and actor Chris Farley. In the opening scene of his movie “Tommy Boy,”  Farley wears a Marquette rugby jacket.

Bowler said the team often enjoys hearing Hartney recount stories of Farley and Marquette club rugby from back in the ’80s and ’90s.

Rugby is a unique sport still emerging in the U.S., and Boehnen said about half of Marquette’s players come with a rugby background.

“There’s definitely a lot of guys that have played through high school. Then there are a lot of kids that have a football or soccer background and just want to continue playing sports competitively,” Boehnen said.

Boehnen said some Marquette students are eager to seize the opportunity to play and learn the sport in college. 

“One of the reasons is that (rugby) isn’t offered everywhere,” Boehnen said. “A lot of kids come in and the first thing they say is ‘My high school didn’t have a team.’ This is the first chance for a lot of them to play and they get really excited about it.”

According to World Rugby, the number of global players of the sport has increased by 24 percent since 2013.

“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in America,” Boehnen said. “Now that it’s in the Olympics and they are making additions to the professional teams in the U.S., there will be a lot more exposure. Give it 10 to 15 years, and you will see a lot of growth.”

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