The Colgate Scene
January 2008

Sports

[Photo by Matthew Culbreth '09]

Raider ruggers

Silence falls over Academy Field as the second XV (a junior varsity component of the Colgate rugby football club) scatter themselves on the left half of the pitch, preparing for play. On the opposite side, the Syracuse Hammerheads stand in a horizontal line, while one of their teammates swings his leg forward to kick the ball, sending it sailing through the air toward the men in maroon and grey.

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Syracuse's 15 players rush forward, anticipating the tackle, as several Colgate players shuffle around each other in the ball's estimated landing zone, unsure as to who will be the one to catch it.

"Call for the ball! Make sure you guys communicate out there!" shouts a junior flanker, a member of the first XV from the sidelines. For many of the Colgate players on the field, it is both the first rugby game of the season, and of their lives, and they're understandably confused.

"If soccer is like checkers, rugby is like chess," said Tim Burdick, the head coach of the men's team. "It has multiple moves, multiple options, and multiple decisions to be made all the time." Because of this complexity, first-time participants have discovered that it is easiest to learn through competition, so a rugby tradition has evolved in which new players and several experienced ones scrimmage another second side without much prior instruction. Although this approach typically leads to missteps such as off-sides calls, illegal forward passes, and the occasional high tackle, it results in an understanding of the game and a bond between the players.

"It really creates a sense of dependence on your teammates, especially on the upperclassmen who have already played," said newcomer Julian Michaels '11. "In the first match, we just came in and all of the upperclassmen were on the sidelines explaining what went wrong in certain situations and why the plays would stop."

Often described as "elegant violence," rugby can leave its players banged up, yet Colgate ruggers, holding true to the "rugby is life" mentality, keep coming back for more.

"At first I wondered why I played this sport," explained Amanda Williams '08, president of the women's club. "I come home with bruises and limbs hanging off," she said (exhibiting a bit of the bravado ruggers are known for). "Then, I think about it and realize that it's the girls on the team that I want to be with every day at 4:30."

A strong team mentality, developed early in the program as ex-high school athletes, seeking a fresh start, come together to learn a new sport, has allowed rugby to become one of the largest club sports on campus with a combined men's and women's roster of nearly 60.

Although the commitment can be demanding, with a six-day-a-week practice, game, and game tape review schedule through mid-November, dedication has paid off with recent success. This fall, both the men's and women's teams qualified for post-season play. After finishing first in their division (the New York State Rugby Conference Empire East, which includes teams from St. Lawrence University, Siena College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), the men's club was runner-up in the NYSRC Championship game and was seeded 7th out of more than 40 other club teams in the Northeast Rugby Union. Their play ended after being upended by the 2005 national champion, United States Coast Guard Academy, in the NRU Quarterfinals.

Over homecoming weekend, the club celebrated its longevity — the 40th anniversary for the men's team, and 25th for the women's. Representing classes from as far back as 1976, through 2007, alumni returned to the scene of their past glories for a weekend of meet-and-greets and matches, concluding with a recognition ceremony.

Captain Ben Kuhns '09 and Hugh Pinchin, professor of economics, emeritus, who was the original men's coach, spoke at the event, thanking the administration and alumni for their continued support, which allowed the recent erection of regulation-size uprights on the field.

The farthest traveled, winger Steve Lemkau '78, flew more than 20 hours from Australia for a chance to run around on the pitch again. Ryan Colameo '07, last year's team captain, was also happy to be back to celebrate: "It's a great tradition to be a part of. Hopefully, I can give back to the club and keep it going for another forty years."

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