The University of South Dakota Men’s Rugby Club has been trying to build its roster back up to field a full squad over the past two years.
David Middlebrooks, the club’s team president, has been involved with the club rugby team at USD since 2007, and said the numbers have declined greatly since he joined.
“When I first got involved with the rugby team I would say we had at least 20 guys on the squad, and just last year we only had three guys on the team,” Middlebrooks said.
Middlebrooks and the club’s vice president, Kevin McLaughlin, began heavily recruiting last fall to reverse this trend.
“We really targeted freshmen in the fall to come give it a shot,” McLaughlin said. “Now we have about 12 guys on the roster, so hopefully we can build upon that next year.”
Middlebrooks and McLaughlin said getting first-years involved is the easiest way to increase numbers.
“Freshmen are looking to get involved and get to know people when they get to campus,” Middlebrooks said. “Once they try rugby out, most tend to really like the sport and then tell their friends about it.”
Along with recruiting first-years to join the club, Middlebrooks believes the rugby team needs to get involved in the fraternity life again.
When Middlebrooks first got involved with the Men’s Rugby Club, he said the numbers were greater because the club had strong involvement with the fraternities on campus.
“It was so easy to get the word about the team spread when we were involved with the fraternities here on campus, because there’s so many guys in that network” Middlebrooks said. “I’m hoping to getting the club involved back with the fraternities in the future to help us get our numbers up but also show guys a new sport to play.”
First-year member Tyler Audino said he saw the rugby table set up at the Muenster University Center and decided he would give it a shot.
“My biggest draw to rugby was being able to compete again,” Audino said. “Also, as a former football player, I liked the idea of playing a contact sport again.”
No matter the reason why someone decides to join the club, Middlebrooks and McLaughlin said teaching the new members the sport of rugby is a challenge.
“Rugby isn’t a hard concept for the guys to understand,” Middlebrooks said. “The most challenging part about the sport is all the rules involved in each circumstance.”
McLaughlin said most of the men who join the club either played football in high school or at least understand football, and the biggest adjustment a lot of the men have to learn is that rugby never stops.
“In football, the play is over after the player has been tackled,” McLaughlin said. “In rugby, you don’t stop after the tackle, the play keeps going on.”
For Audino, the continuous aspect of rugby was one of the hardest things to adapt to.
“I played football all my life and you always knew when the play was over,” Audino said. “In rugby, the play continues all the time. It took me a while to get that concept into my head.”
McLaughlin and Middlebrooks said it takes a while for some of the new players to understand the game. Practice and competing consistently is the best way to learn the game, they said.
The rugby team practices twice a week at the field north of Highway 50 and works to learn the sport and practice proper technique and fundamentals.
Besides practicing, the team plays five or six games a semester and even competes at tournaments on weekends, if possible.
Because USD only has 12 members on its team, it combines with other teams or players to complete a full squad of 15 members.
McLaughlin and Middlebrooks are hoping that with their recruiting efforts the numbers for their team will increase and they will be able to compete as a full side without having to borrow or combine with other teams in the future.
“We have 12 guys now and need only three or four more for a full squad next year,” McLaughlin said. “We hope more will join the rugby team, because they’ll learn a new sport and hopefully will love it like we do.”
(Photo: First-years Tanner Elle and Austin Lofland, two members of the USD Men’s Rugby Club, perform a drill during practice April 10. Ally Krupinsky / The Volante)