University rugby club team ranked 19th in nation

William Channell and William Channell

The University has one sports team that has had a perfect season this year so far, is nationally ranked and regularly defeats its opponents by upwards of 30 points.

And it’s a club team.

The men’s rugby club team is ranked 19th in the nation by rugbymag.com, and since the 1980s has been one of the most successful teams the University has been home to.

Senior Trent Szente, a member of the men’s rugby club, said he played football in high school, but fell in love with rugby.

“I saw where rugby turned into football,” Szente said. “It’s more of a round game. It’s nonstop action, and it’s a very physical sport.”

Most people likely wouldn’t think of the University as a rugby school, though Tony Mazzarella, director and coach of the men’s rugby team, said its success is largely due to intelligent recruitment practices.

“I think what we do really well is we go after guys who will fit our system,” he said. “We want to dissect what they can do as a player. Not necessarily what they do now, but what they can do two, three years down the road.”

Ohio has historically been a state lacking in high school rugby teams. When the men’s rugby team was just starting at the University, it was difficult to find good recruits.

“It really came down to recruiting the best players, and teaching them to play [better],” Mazzarella said.

Szente said early on the team relied on word-of-mouth to get players as well.

Interest in the sport at a high school level has increased, which Mazzarella said will help make integration of the men’s and women’s rugby teams into the athletic department more attractive to the administration.

“[Interest] is something we’re building,” Mazzarella said. “We’ve come as far as we can as a club sport.”

Jason Knavel, assistant director for athletic communications, said the team has not been incorporated into the department because rugby is not an NCAA sanctioned sport, and said none of the schools in the top rankings have rugby teams that are officially affiliated with their athletic departments.

“We’re not different from anybody else,” Knavel said. “We’re pretty much standard operation with the rest of the country.”

Knavel pointed out that in the end, it isn’t the athletic department that makes these decisions.

“These are institutional decisions,” he said. “[They’re] philosophical decisions made by the [University].”