Bethel rugby misses national tournament for the first time

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One of the biggest surprises of the fall sports season may not been the men's Bethel-Notre Dame basketball exhibition game, nor the women's volleyball team's big upset over IWU. No, the biggest surprise might be from the men's rugby team, who failed to qualify for the national tournament for the first time in their three-year existence. The year prior, the men's rugby team won the 2017 National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Challenge Cup National Championship.

What went wrong this season? "We talked about this in practice a couple of times," freshman fullback Alfredo De Lara said. "There's a bunch of new people and we struggled with being on the same page with things and putting people in different positions." The Pilots have several new freshmen, including De Lara and Saikou Diallo. They also have some new walk-ons, including Matthew Myer and Brandon Slabaugh. On top of that, the Pilots also gained a transfer from Notre Dame, William Dean Merriweather III. "It's funny because one of the new guys got to start in our last game (against Calvin College)," senior wing Adam Trejo recalled, "I want to say 20 minutes into the game, he comes back to me after we scored and he's like, 'So how do you ruck?' And was like, 'You've been practicing with us for how long and you don't know how to ruck, bro?' So I had to give him a quick run through of what a ruck was and he was like, 'Well that's it?' And I was like, 'Well, that's all I can give you right now.' That's what it was like with most of the new guys." What was the motivation last season then? "Our first season was a little rough and we lost several guys after that season," Junior ex-rugby lock/hooker Jack Dugan stated, "We got a new coaching staff and got some new players in. We were all so motivated to do better than the first season because we actually qualified to go to the tournament, but we never went anywhere in the tournament. My freshman year was the first year of the program and we just wanted to get to nationals like any team. Our new coaches (from last season) helped motivate us and they helped us build the skills we needed to get there." However, the Pilots posted a 5-1 record this season, with their only loss being to Grand Valley State University (16-8.) What was the reason they didn't make it to the championship, then? "The biggest change was that we went from a small college division to Division II," Trejo pointed out. "With that happening, there's actual teams that play. This year had teams that were more organized and were able to play against us. Whereas last year, there were a couple teams that were unorganized and didn't really know how to play. We were like, 'That's not a quality game for us to play in.' So, this year, the level of rugby was a lot higher than it was last year." The winner of each conference gets an automatic bid into the tournament, but since they lost one game and there was one team ahead of them, the Pilots couldn't claim that bid. They had to wait for an at-large bid, which is like the wildcard bid in the National Football League. Alas, it was not meant to be. The Pilots might be back on the field sooner than you might expect, though. The men's rugby team could be playing in a rugby 7's league in the spring, which is essentially 7-on-7 rugby and played with 7-minute halves. Hopefully, Coach Gil Gida is able to finalize those plans for the team and give fans one more chance to see their rugby team play this school year.  
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