With limited financial resources, the USI rugby team takes its talking to the field.
After a 36-17 win in its season opener against Western Kentucky University last week, the Eagles (1-0) have their eyes set on the University of Kentucky (0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Intramural and Recreational Field.
Within the past five years, the team has given students wanting a football team something else to root for instead. No longer viewed as an odd-ball sport, the growing popularity of rugby has caught the attention of several USI fans and continues to grow across the nation.
“My freshman year, we maybe had 20 or 30 people come out to our games – mostly just our family and girlfriends,” senior Tyler Pipes said. “Now, there’s a ton of support from Greek Life and other fans. We probably have around 150 to 200 fans come out now.
“I remember when we went up to Wabash for the state championship last fall, we even had our own student section travel up for it.”
USI lost that match by just three points, ending the season with a respectable 5-2 record – followed by a 3-1 record in the spring.
This fall, the team features plenty of athleticism in former high school football, wrestling and baseball players. Under the tutelage of fourth-year head coach Kurt Murrell, who has been active in the sport for over 20 years, the Eagles feel they have one of the most experienced and fundamentally strong teams it has ever had.
“We’ve just really been sticking to the basics in practice,” junior Justin Mizen said. “When you get ahead of yourself, that’s when you start turning the ball over and losing matches. … We feel like we can beat just about anyone.”
USI has proven they can beat Division I clubs in the recent past. A win against UK, who plays in one of the most athletically-gifted conferences in the nation, adds even more to the respect the team has gained over the past five years.