The club rugby team won its second straight Division I club national championship after beating the New Orleans Rugby Football Club 39-7 on May 31 in Madison, Wis.
That title came less than a month after the Running Eagles’ undergraduate program lost the Division I-A club championship to Saint Mary’s College, 21-6 in Stanford, Calif.
Over the same weekend, Life’s undergraduate rugby sevens team dropped a narrow 19-17 contest to Kutztown in the semifinals of the Collegiate Rugby Championship Invitational in Chester, Pa.
“This was a really great year for the program,” Life athletic director John Barrett said. “We’ve had extraordinary success, collegiately, the past two years and there’s been a lot of excitement. The credit goes to the coaches and the student-athletes. They’re taking Life to a different level.”
The success of the rugby teams continues to be a source of pride at Life, which re-established its athletic program in 2007 after previously dropping sports following the university’s loss of accreditation. Last year’s rugby teams won two national championships and reached four finals, and over the past five years, the program has won four national titles in eight finals appearances.
“I’ve been with the teams five years now, and it seems like we’ve improved year after year,” said Dan Payne, director of Life’s rugby program. “This past spring may have been even more rewarding than last year.
“We graduated a lot of people, but the new guys improved and competed and stepped up and kept the history of the program that these guys started five years ago. We overachieved a bit more than we did last year, and with over 80 student-athletes involved in the program, they were as rewarding and enjoyable a group as any that I’ve been around.”
Life’s Division I club team, comprised of graduate and chiropractic students, participates at the highest level of rugby in the United States — against many semi-professional clubs — and players are in the competition pool for the U.S. national team.
Rugby sevens is growing in popularity and will be an Olympic sport in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. The CRC championship has been nationally televised since 2010.
“CRC is two-week period where we use some of our undergraduate rugby 15 players and compete as a sevens (team),” Payne said. “(The Division I-A) season ended a month earlier, but the guys are able to continue on as a sevens and compete in the CRC.”
The coaching staff, which consists of Payne, Andrew “Tui” Osborne, Dave Gorman, Shaun Davies, Scott Lawrence and strength and conditioning coach Chris Caso, all contribute to the success of the men’s programs.
“I’m fortunate to have the luxury of a great staff,” Payne said. “We all coach a variety of different things, and we all contribute. I help facilitate things with all the coaches, but also work very closely with the undergraduate team.”
Life has also started a women’s undergraduate rugby team, which had its inaugural season this past spring as a club sport. Coached by Rosalind Chou, it will become a full varsity squad next spring.
“Clearly, we’re thrilled with the success of the undergraduate and graduate men’s rugby teams,” university spokesman Craig Dekshenieks said. “There’s no reason to think the women won’t have that success, too.
“We have the coaches and the facilities, and athletes that compete at the highest level. It’s a winning formula for optimism that our programs will continue to be successful for years to come.”