Reapers Looking at Bright Future

Mitchell Smith

Photo by Halley McCormick

A year ago, the Whitman rugby Reapers suffered an 88-0 loss on their trip to Klamath Falls at the hands of the Oregon Institute of Technology. On Sunday, Oct. 5, the club rugby team of Whitman College had a chance to avenge that season defining loss. The Reapers did not disappoint, outscoring OIT 19-15 on Ankeny Field for their first win of the season.

“That felt really good,” said sophomore Nate Dorlac of his team’s redeeming win. It looks like many more of such wins are in store for the team this year, which has been infused with young talent.

“It’s a completely different animal,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people from the freshman class that have showed interest and played really well.”

In fact, of the 25 players on the team, eight had never played before coming to Whitman. Second-year Head Coach Clive Kaiser pointed to the youth movement as vital to the future of the team.

“This team has incredible potential … They have the desire, they have the ability and I think they’ll go a long way,” said Kaiser.

That youth movement has paid off so far for the Reapers, who also won last Saturday, Oct. 12 in an away game over Willamette University by a score of 15-5.

Those away games are tough, explained Kaiser. Because rugby is a club sport, traveling to away games is not mandatory.

“The big snag we have is traveling long distances to play teams,” said Kaiser. “The numbers drop off as you go to the away games.”

This makes road wins such as the victory against Willamette all the more satisfying for the Reapers.

The talent of the younger players sometimes takes a little while to blossom, as Kaiser and some of the more experienced players have to teach technique, strategy and rules to those players with less experience. This inexperience was a big part of the team’s loss in its first game to Gonzaga University, explained first-year Logan Miller.

“That was our first game of the year and we had four or five guys that had never played a game before, so [the difficulty] was to be expected,” he said.

Miller has played rugby since he was just six years old, which is actually quite common where he grew up, just outside of London. Miller said that the quality of play here is not quite at the level that it was in England, but that there are parts of the game that are more intense than across the pond.

Photo by Halley McCormick

“The guys here are very intense … It’s very oriented around contact here,” said Miller.

That should change soon, though. As the less experienced players gain the basics of the sport, more tactics will be introduced.

Miller believes the more advanced tactics will come with time.

“You need to know the basics of the game before they can be implemented. I’m sure we’ll bring those [tactics] in soon,” he said.

In addition to the rugby players who attend Whitman, the Reapers include several members of the Walla Walla community. This year the number of community players is down compared to years past. Of the 25 on the roster, just four do not attend Whitman. The talent from outside the Whitman sphere has benefits outside of helping the team, explained first-year Edward Ferguson.

“I think it’s really great because when you go to a school like Whitman you can sort of get into a bubble. You can be in an environment where you don’t get a lot of contact with the local community unless you get yourself out there. Playing with the guys from town is a great way to get to know some of the people from Walla Walla and engage in a more organic way. Because we’re playing out here, it’s not a forced sort of thing,” said Ferguson.

Photo by Halley McCormick

Miller has also enjoyed his teammates, whether or not they are Whitman students.

“It’s great, everyone’s really friendly,” he said.

Great can also be used to describe the future of the rugby program at Whitman. While the team elected not to enter the National Small College Tournament this year due to a conflict with final exams, entering and having success at Nationals is definitely a prospect for next year.

“With the talent we have, there’s a good chance we might elect to go to nationals next year,” said Booth.

For now, though, the team will look to improve on their 2-1 record. With a third of the season already gone, it looks to be one of the best years yet for the Whitman Reapers.