Of all non-traditional sports, rugby is one of the most unique. It also happens to be one of the most successful at the University of Southern Indiana.
The USI men's rugby squad has been competing against other schools for 20 years, but that's not to say it has received much attention.
"I don't think a lot of students know about it," said sophomore team captain and outside center Tyler Pipes. "If they do know about it, I don't think they know how serious we are. We play other colleges, most bigger than us."
That lack of notoriety hasn't kept USI from dominating the competition.
With last Saturday's narrow defeat of Anderson University in the Indiana Small College Rugby Playoffs, the Eagles (5-1) earned the right to compete in the state championship.
"That match was by far the best game I've ever played or even seen," said Pipes. "I remember scoring and thinking I'd sealed the game. Then the next thing I knew they were driving right back at us."
The Small College Rugby Newsletter described the win as "the most exciting match you'll ever see".
USI coach Kurt Murrell agreed with that assessment. "We went into the match knowing that Anderson was the best team in the state," he said. "If we wanted the respect of the league we needed to beat the best, and we did."
Some other notable starters during Saturday's match were Ben Hanson, playing in the prop position, Alex Zartman at hooker, Doug Rose at fly half, Vladamir Toropov at wing, David Shields and Adam Kunkel, both in the flanker position, and George Bristow in a position known as eight man.
"They are a very tight group, and most of them should stay together and keep contributing for the next couple of seasons," said Murrell. "They've put in a lot of hard work going all the way back to the spring, and now they're getting what they deserve."
Rugby is a sport defined by intensity. It involves whatever physical contact a player finds necessary, and the rules allow no pads or blocking. A match is played in two continuous 40-minute halves, and no time-outs are permitted.
"It's an extremely aggressive game," said sophomore half back Justin Mizen, whose accurate kicking proved essential to the win over Anderson.
"During a game you can get the crap kicked out of you, but you always respect the other team."
USI's first rugby club was founded in the late 1980s by coach Al Brenner. The team has experienced intermittent periods of growth and decline.
Since taking over in the fall of 2009, Murrell has worked hard to restore USI's dominant status.
According to Mizen, Murrell's extensive experience provides good guidance for the team.
"He has brought this club to an incredible level with his coaching style," he said. "We just keep getting better."
The Eagles will have a chance to improve once more when they face Wabash College in the state championship at Indiana State University today.
Link to original post: http://www.courierpress.com/news/2011/nov/05/ev_05usirugby/