Men’s club rugby team loses players to spring sports

Andrew Hawkins

The men’s club rugby team, known as the Reapers, has struggled more this season than in the fall, already having lost three games. In contrast, the men ended their fall season with a 5-1-1 record.

Rugby struggles traditionally at small schools. With fewer students interested in athletics and less funding than large public schools, rugby often falls to the side.

Ruggers run through a play during practice. The Reapers experienced a noticeable drop in numbers this spring, leaving them with a weaker team. Photo Credit: Marie von Hafften

“Reed [College] closed their rugby team after 25 years this year. Without [Coach] Eric McAvely we would fold. It’s hard to keep rugby at a small school,” said junior rugby player Joseph Cohen.

Whitman consistently has a strong fall program, but a weaker spring season. This prompts the question: Why does such a successful fall program struggle in the spring?

The club rugby team has difficulty during spring season because it often loses players to other club sports and struggles to retain first-years. Seven rugby players have left to play lacrosse and study abroad, and most of their first-years have left the team.

“Every year we lose players to lacrosse and study abroad, but no one is upset about it. We understand that they played lacrosse in high school [and want to take the chance to study in a different country] and that rugby isn’t their primary sport,” said Cohen.

“That whole group of young, athletic guys, dropped,” said Cohen. “Next season we need to do more team building activities to get freshman involved and sticking with it.”

Lack of team cohesion and lower numbers have been the central issues in the fall.  However, to keep first-years and to maintain interest in the team year-round, the team needs its leaders. This year, however, all three of the rugby players who studied abroad were year-round players.

“Losing those strong veteran level players is really hard for the team’s mentality,” said Cohen.

On top of study abroad and dropping first-years, lacrosse takes players from the team because lacrosse is perceived as more of a priority.

“I played lacrosse first,” said first-year Alejandro Fuentes-Mena simply.

“Like most guys, I started playing rugby when I came to college,” said Cohen, whose primary sport was lacrosse before coming to college, but who is now committed to being a year-round Reaper.

The Reapers’ year-long season allows lacrosse players to participate in both sports. In spring, four players leave rugby for lacrosse; this gives lacrosse the most seasonal rugby players of any club team, and perhaps the greatest individual loss for the rugby team as a whole.

“Lacrosse is their main sport,” said senior and ex-lacrosse player Will Ethier-Colón referring to the players that leave for lacrosse. “They look at lacrosse as their primary sport and rugby as off-season training.”

This illuminates one reason that rugby losses so many players. The men’s rugby team will need to hold on to their players in order to maintain a record like they had in the fall. With all these struggles, the team has its work cut out for them. Better results might not be likely this season, but a stronger focus on integrating first-years will help the team in the long run.