Sophomore James Wilkinson breaks through a tackle during the Lehigh men's rugby practice on Wednesday. The rugby team is hoping to gain more respect with a good season. (Emily Hu, B&W Staff)

Lehigh men’s club rugby hopes to make progress in critical year

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Over the past couple of years, the Lehigh men’s club rugby team has grown from a small group of young men into a tremendously ambitious team.

Last year, the team was invited to play in the Middle Atlantic Conference along with some of the best club rugby teams in the country. Although the team knew it was unprepared and inexperienced, it accepted the challenge in hopes that it would expose its players to tough competition that would make them stronger as a whole.

By the end of the season, they were placed low in their bracket. They took a vote and decided they would stay in the Middle Atlantic Conference for this season, playing teams that were more evenly matched.

Thus far this season, the team has a solid 2-3 record with one game left. They have an estimated 35 members on the club team, but only 22 players on the roster. The team is fairly young, consisting of mostly freshmen and sophomores. The players practice about three times a week, and when they don’t have games, they spend their Saturdays scrimmaging other teams in the area.

The team’s first victory was against California University of Pennsylvania. The Hawks emerged victorious with a score of 53-22.

“Our game against CUP was my favorite game of this season,” sophomore Mpho Bowie said. “After conceding two tries within the first 10 minutes, I don’t know about the rest of the players, but I was very worried about the rest of our season. We found our form, though, and quickly caught up and surpassed CUP in points. Our game plan worked perfectly, and the backline was dominating theirs. It was also a lot of fun because a few of the first years were able to score their first tries for Lehigh in that game.”

The team’s second victory, a tight match against Bloomsburg University, had a final score of 16-15.

Slippery Rock, TCNJ and York College defeated the Mountain Hawks for the team’s three other games this season.

Sophomore Ian McDonald attributes the team’s wins to the mental and physical toughness of the team.

“Our strength as a team is composure and toughness,” he said. “We grind out for the ball.”

The Hawks’ next game is against East Stroudsburg, which is known for its very competitive rugby program. Senior president Nick Cicione is hopeful they have what it takes to defeat them.

“We only have one more match before playoffs,” Cicione said. “We are hoping to get a win against arguably our toughest opponent yet in East Stroudsburg so we can improve to .500. If we can stick with playing Lehigh rugby and execute our game plan, we can compete with any team in the league.”

During the East Stroudsburg game, the team is going to focus on its communication and tackling.

“We were not marking our opposition well enough and were not shifting across to defend the wing,” Bowie said. “Before our next game, I think this is one of the most important things that we need to work on.”

After the regular season, the MARC will be holding playoffs. After this game, the Mountain Hawks are hoping to be in a position to qualify.

“Depending on how the season ends up, we still stand a chance of qualifying,” Cicione said. “At the bare minimum, we hope to have the opportunity to compete in post-season play so that we can move up to Tier 1 for 2015.”

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