By Shawn Russell, Staff Reporter
With an impressive overall ranking of 25th in the nation, the UMF Men’s Rugby Team recently finished their tremendous fall season with a heartbreaking loss to Eastern Connecticut State University, falling behind 28-15 in the New England conference playoff match. The ECSU team, ranked 5th in the nation (out of 211 playoff-eligible small college teams) upped their record to 7-0, while the Beavers ended their season at 5-2. Although the loss was tough to swallow, the team reflected on their amazing season and looks forward to a competitive spring.
“In my years playing rugby, this was with without a doubt the best overall rugby program that I’ve faced,” said Matt Bigelow, a senior co-captain and scrumhalf for the squad. Bigelow, who’s been in the program for five years, was very impressed with both his team and the ECSU team as well. “Going 5-1 in the regular season, making playoffs, and being nationally ranked 25th at the division 2 and 3 level… It would be outrageous to say this season wasn’t a success for the program,” Bigelow said of his team.
“I felt great about the season,” said Ryan Berthiaume, another five-year veteran and co-captain of the squad. Berthiaume, normally a prop for the Beavers, had to change his position this fall to 8-man after re-breaking his foot during a practice in August. Although the injury was unsettling to Berthiaume and his team alike, they persevered and stood up to the challenges. “We had some growing pains with so many new guys and some injuries, but we met the adversity head on,” said Berthiaume. “That’s what I think made this team special, was that we just kept fighting and showing our heart.”
Though the team experienced many changes over the summer and into the fall season, the players have adapted well. Woody Hanstein, who coached UMF Men’s Rugby since the team was established in 1991, recently passed the torch to Tony Solis, a UMF alumnus who has been apart of the program for close to a decade. Although Hanstein is still heavily involved with the team, Solis ran practices and conditioning for the season and is expected to again in the spring.
“I had an absolute blast, and honestly can’t wait to get started again in the spring,” said Solis. Solis was extremely impressed with the work ethic and performance of the team throughout the season. “We may be few in numbers, but the guys who show up to practices worked really hard to be the finest in the land, especially our rookies that stepped into starting roles from week one,” said Solis. “Overall, the men on the team really bought into the concept of the type of program we want to continue to build here.”
With the fall season now concluded, Beaver Rugby looks forward to a promising spring season. The spring season holds the most important tournaments and matches for the team, including the Beast of the East tournament and the Maine Cup. “I’m really excited to see how it goes, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder and something to prove. Personally, I love that,” said Solis. “I also hope to gain additional recruits for the spring as we are losing several legendary UMF ruggers after the season,” said Solis.
Students interested in joining the rugby program can email Matt Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org.