Rugby Team Rises From Obscurity to Championship
New Squad Preparing for the PacWest Region Championship in Nebraska in April
Mar. 6, 2012
Steve Hale catches a throw during the championship game against UT San Antonio. (Photo by Kayli Lopez)
Only months ago, the rugby team at UT Dallas was virtually non-existent. Last fall, a group of about 40 “lads” showed up for practice, eager to learn the game.
During the warm Texas evenings, they learned to run, pass, ruck and maul. A greater interest from students and a new coach fed the momentum.
And somehow, only months later, they are state champions.
The team next travels to the PacWest Region Championship in Nebraska in mid-April to battle the host team from Wayne State University.
The rugby team is one of 24 club sports at UT Dallas.
“Those involved with Club Sports are competing purely for the love of the sport and are students first and foremost,” said Chris McAlpine, assistant director of recreational sports and adviser to all club sports at UT Dallas. “That’s what makes the rugby team’s season such a great story.”
In the beginning, a small group of students began meeting regularly, participating in scrimmage matches and encouraging others to join. Then, they approached a former Texas Rugby Union leader, Tony Wagner, to serve as their volunteer coach. They played hard under his direction and though they lost their first few matches in the fall, they finished their Texas Rugby Union league season undefeated after seven games.
Team captain Nathan Sohadaseni (second from right) pumped up his teammates during half time of the championship game. (From left) Zach Ussery, Erbold Uran, Sean Harris, Sohadaseni and Ben Bales. (Photo by Kayli Lopez)
Next was the Texas Rugby Union Collegiate Division III Championship.
Nathan Sohadaseni, a senior management information systems major in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, is president and captain of the team. He called their win streak “monumental” and said the entire team was nervous going into the match with San Antonio.
“So many of us wanted to live up to the story,” he said. “We were the underdogs and we needed to win. When it was over, it felt like a weight had been lifted. We had all the tools to win the game; we just had to play like it.”
They beat UT San Antonio, 15-10. The match was hard fought. The team was down 10-0, battled back to cut the lead to 10-8 at the half, then scored their second try of the match and converted it to take the lead 15-10. A try is a method of scoring worth five points where a player touches the ball down in the opponent’s goal area.
“UTSA threw all kinds of things at us, and my lads responded by playing their best rugby,” Coach Wagner said. “UTSA attacked us in our red zone the last six minutes, but we didn’t break. The lads showed tremendous heart.”
The PacWest Region Championship takes place over two separate matches April 14-15 in Wayne, Nebraska. If the UT Dallas players win their first match on Saturday, they will play for the PacWest Region Championship on Sunday. If they win that round, they then travel to the national championships in Colorado.
Wagner said the regional matches will be tough, but his journey with the team so far has been good.
“When I started coaching at UT Dallas in the fall, I just wanted us to be competitive, so I’m ecstatic with where we are now. I’m riding on cloud nine with their accomplishments.”
The team president summed up his hopes for the competition.
“I feel less pressure going into Nebraska,” Sohadaseni said. “I’m looking forward to the competition and to having fun. After that, we’ll try our best to win big.”
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