CSU rugby fills spring sports void

Kyle Eichelberger breaks a tackle for a try on Monday's practice. The Rams will be having their next home game on Wednesday April 10th at 7pm.
Kyle Eichelberger breaks a tackle for a try on Monday’s practice. The Rams will be having their next home game on Wednesday April 10th at 7pm.

Junior Chris Hooyman grinned as he pointed to a bandage above his eye. On the CSU rugby team, scars are showed off like trophies.

“Its such an interesting sport. In basketball, if the ball goes out of bounds, it just goes to the other team, but if the ball goes out of bounds in rugby, you end up lifting up someone in the air about six feet to compete for the ball,” Hooyman, a former basketball player, said.

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Players attempt to score by advancing the ball down the field by running, using lateral passes, or kicking the ball.

Many of the CSU players played other sports before turning to rugby. Sophomore Carmine Hernandez was a wrestler and football player before he found the sport.

“I love the physicality of rugby, being able to get the ball at any point in time, and the strategy involved,” Hernandez said.

While the passion is immediately evident on the practice field, the rugby program is still developing at CSU. Currently, the team has a mix of more experienced players and newcomers to the sport.

“Every season we’ve got some experienced players but we also have new guys who have never played the sport before,” senior Ryan Walker said. “It’s great because we’ve got the coaching and knowledge within to teach players that if you come out and give it a try you will have fun and be able to pick up the game quickly.”

First year head coach Justin Mort and his staff are focused on raising the bar for the rugby team and holding them to the standards of other top rugby programs in the country

“We want to try and make it to nationals this year,” said Mort. “We are starting to pick things up here in practice. Last year, we had a couple all stars here. We’ve got some good speed, and a decent amount of knowledge from guys that have been playing throughout high school.”

“We want to get away from what people may think about collegiate rugby and show people that these are athletes that compete alongside the other varsity programs at this school,” assistant coach Frank Gianchetta said. “We want this program to continually grow and get to the point where we can be recruiting guys and bring new talent in.”

While some players on the team are new to the sport entirely, others have had success on the national level. Three Rams — freshmen Ben Pinkelman and Eric Hamilton, and sophomore Evan Geist competed with the U-20 All-American rugby team. Coach Mort will rely on the experience of players like Pinkelman to help teach the game.

“It’s a great thing seeing new people,” said Hernandez. “Teaching them helps them, but it helps me at the same time. Rugby isn’t a one-man sport, you have to have everyone on the field with you on the same page or you won’t get anywhere.”

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The future is bright for CSU rugby. With a mixture of veterans and fresh faces, an energized coaching staff, and a unique sport that is fast paced and entertaining, Rams rugby should hold over sports fans for the remainder of the semester.

“We’d love to see more fans at our games,” said Hooyman. “Last fall we were in the Top 25 and went to nationals, and this year we are coming out just as hot. It’s a fun game to watch and I think that people will be entertained by coming and watching a CSU team win games.”

Club Sports Reporter Tyrus Coder can be reached at sports@collegian.com