The University of Southern Indiana rugby team has won the Indiana Small College Championship in the Indiana Rugby Union. USI beat IPFW 30-12 in the semifinals last weekend, then beat Anderson 15-14 in the title match. USI, which plays rugby as a club sport, is 8-0. The Eagles play Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in the first round of the Midwest Regionals.
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With a dominating 47-12 victory over league rival Wabash on Saturday, the USI rugby team sketched its name in the Indiana Rugby Union’s small college semifinals.
The win gave the Eagles (5-0, 3-0) its first win against Wabash in four years. Last year in the state championship, the Little Giants edged out USI by three points.
“It was a huge grudge match for us,” said sophomore Adam Ferrari, who scored three tries in the match. “Everybody knows they were the team we hadn’t been able to beat, so we definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder and to prove to them we’ve gotten better.”
Both teams started the match slow out of the gates, but USI head coach Kurt Murrell said once they started dialing in the defense and putting pressure on Wabash, good things started to happen.
“It’s an even bigger win than the UK game because (Wabash) has taken to us the past three seasons,” Murrell said. “This team has been together for a while to where they’re not going to lose these games anymore.”
After leading 17-12 at halftime, USI outscored Wabash 30-0 in the second half. The Eagles built momentum early on as sophomore Doug Rose sent a kick deep into Little Giants territory. Wabash tried to kick it right back, but senior Justin Mizen blocked the attempt and Ferrari scooped it up for the first try of the second half.
“That play really set the tone for the second half,” Rose said. “We wanted to come out strong and put the pressure on them defensively, and we were able to force a lot of turnovers.
“But really, it’s just another win. We’re in the same position now as we were last year pretty much. Hopefully we can continue to build momentum next week before semifinals.”
USI wraps up league play next week at home against Grace College (2-1), the North Division leaders.
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Kyle Lemond discovered rugby in a hallway at the University of Southern Indiana.
"I saw this big dude walking down the hall with a USI rugby shirt on," he said, "and I was impressed."
That was four years ago.
"I was going to play soccer, but I changed my mind and I've been playing rugby ever since."
In fact, he got to be so good at the sport he's a starting inside center and the kicker for the USI rugby team.
Make that the undefeated USI rugby team.
It's a club sport at the school, meaning that it's not sanctioned by the NCAA. Nevertheless, the Screaming Eagles are 5-0 this season. In fact, after Saturday's 47-10 victory over visiting Wabash College, they're 3-0 in the Indiana Rugby Union's small-college division.
USI has one regular-season game left, next Saturday at noon at home against league foe Grace College. The team's field is located off Clarke Street on the north side of the campus and just south of the Lloyd Expressway.
"This group's been together a couple of years now and really enjoy it," said Kurt Murrell, who's in his fourth year as USI's head coach. "And they take it seriously. They treat it like any other sport."
He was referring to rugby's checkered history at USI. The sport's image was that of a collection of hard partiers rather than a team of dedicated athletes.
"We've kind of kept this close to the vest because of (rugby's) reputation on campus," said Murrell.
Judging from Saturday's win over Wabash — "This was definitely a grudge match," said sophomore Doug Rose of the bitter rival that beat the Eagles in last year's small college state championship match — USI has become very serious indeed.
Rose has been playing the game since seventh grade after getting interested through his father, who played rugby in college.
"I like it because it's a combination of (several) sports," said Rose. "It's like cross country because you're always running. It's like football because of the intensity. It's like soccer because of the finesse."
People unfamiliar with rugby may think of it as football without pads. But Murrell disagrees.
"It's more about space than it is about contact," he said.
With 15 players on each side battling for control of the large, egg-shaped ball, it's also a lot like wrestling.
"As a matter of fact, wrestlers make the easiest conversion to rugby," said the 53-year-old Murrell, who took up rugby while playing football at Hofstra University.
But don't be fooled. There's still plenty of contact. The sounds alone testify to that.
On Saturday, one Wabash player reportedly suffered a broken collar bone.
As for the game itself, players score a "try," worth five points, when they cross the goal line with the ball. After a try, the scoring team will attempt to score two more points with an uncontested kick between upright goal posts, which are located on each goal line. There's also a kick similar to football's field goal in which a player tries to kick the ball between the uprights during play; if successful, it's worth three points.
Also, there's no forward pass like in football. Instead, all passes are shoveled backward to teammates on the run.
All this results in almost constant action during the 40-minute halves.
Lemond loves it.
"It's pure," he said. "It's the original sport.
"There's the physicality of it. But you can't be just a big guy playing rugby. I like the physical part, but I also like the mental challenge."
And, he said, don't forget the camaraderie, which may be as important as the ball.
"We're all friends," he said. "I've gotten in a fight with a guy in a game, then we went out and had a beer together afterwards."
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