There is an old saying in rugby: “My drinking team has a rugby problem.” The Chicago rugby team, however, doesn’t appear to have many problems at the moment, be they drinking or otherwise. In fact, when talking to members of the team, they could not be more excited about the way things are going this season.
Up until a few years ago, the rugby team operated mainly as a Graduate School of Business Club. During this time, most of the team members were graduate students, with the inclusion of only a handful of undergraduates.
However, three years ago, the team’s focus shifted to undergraduates. The presence of Booth School students began to drop off as undergraduates picked up the slack, sending the team into a transition period during which results were somewhat less than favorable.
“During this time, winning matches was a struggle, and the team’s victories slowly dropped,” second-year and current team president Joe Ladowski said. “In fact, when I joined the team a year and a half ago, I don’t think we won more than 3 matches outside of tournament play.”
Poor scheduling has been partially to blame for the poor results over the years. In the fall, the team plays in the collegiate division of the Chicago Area Rugby Football Union (CARFU). If they are successful there, they continue on to the regional, and then national, playoffs of the USA Rugby’s collegiate division. However, this success has been hard to come by, as the team hasn’t been fully prepared for the start of the season.
“CARFU starts their season about a month before we start school,” Ladowski said. “This means that during the fall we must play after a week back at school. Essentially, we have two practices to prepare for teams who have been training for about a month and a half.”
This poor scheduling only compounds the problems the team constantly faces due to a lack of experience and the need to constantly blood new players.
“We play all undergraduates in the fall and often are left with a lack of depth, so we must start new guys immediately,” Ladowski explained. “This leads to a long fall season in which we are competitive against teams like DePaul, UIC, and Lewis but stand little chance against the bigger schools.”
But all that has begun to change this season. Andy Yeaman has taken on a position as the team’s coach, something they have never had before, the team has quickly begun to turn their results around.
Last year, the team suffered a 5–0 loss at the hands of Lewis University but this year returned the favor with a comprehensive 4–0 win. In their only other league game, Chicago also defeated the Chicago Dragons, a men’s team, by a result of 74–0. In tournament play, results have been more varied, with wins against Marquette and Ball State during the Whiskey Tens, while they have also been defeated by Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois twice, bringing their overall record to 3–2 when full game tournaments are accounted for.
“A smaller, conditioned, disciplined team will beat a larger team any day. A lot of students don’t understand that size in rugby is not all that essential,” Ladowski said “Any athlete knows that a player with better form has a very, very good chance of succeeding. Several of our guys barely break 170 pounds.”
Ladowski attributes much of the team’s success to the efforts of the previous team president, fourth-year Brad Trotter. Trotter was behind the efforts to bring the team a coach, increase recruitment and player commitment, and work with CARFU to improve the team’s scheduling.
“I’ve had help along the way with other captains lightening the load for the last couple years,” Trotter said. “I started playing here fall of my freshman year and am now a graduating senior, so I’ve been with the team through a lot of ups and downs and different groups and outlooks.”
Trotter and the rest of his teammates are certainly reaping the benefits of their hard work and dedication.
“These results are remarkable, as a small club team from a school like ours to go out and compete in an incredibly athletic sport with schools whose [student populations] easily double our own,” Trotter added. “On top of that, very few of our members have played rugby before school, and it’s a team effort to continually teach everyone the game.”
The team is hoping that their current run of positive results will continue as they host DePaul this Saturday at Washington Park in their first home game of the season. But the team is also looking to extend its success in the long run, and hopes this year’s success will continue next season.
“The experience we gain now will carry over to the fall season, and we hope to be very competitive against the bigger schools this year with a chance at entering the Midwest Collegiate Playoffs,” Ladowski said.