The men’s club rugby team took down USA Rugby Division I University of Georgia by a score of 33-17 last weekend in its first match of the spring season. After finishing the fall season with an even .500 record, the Eagles are hoping to finish first in their conference and move on to the post-season.
“This is our strongest team in about three years,” team Vice President Tyler Davis said. “Things are looking really solid.”
Despite their 0-5 spring season last year, team President and Captain Carlos Marquez emphasized how the team has improved since then. He pointed out that last year, the team had lost a lot of seniors from the year before, so the Eagles had to rebuild. Now that the new players last year have experience, the team is much better prepared for this year’s season.
“The transformation I’ve seen in the past 10 months even has been phenomenal,” Davis said. “We have a hard-nosed team this year.”
Despite Emory being a smaller team physically than other clubs, Marquez explained the Eagles are often more fit than their opponents, meaning their starters can go a lot further into games.
“The thing that really has made this year’s team good is that everyone on the field is reliable,” Davis said. “If there is one weak link on the field that’s all it takes. This year, even our weakest links are pretty strong.”
One area of improvement for the team is its depth. During its match against UGA, Emory took a 26-0 lead into halftime. The squad swapped in seven players from the bench, who gave up 17 points to the Bulldogs.
“It was a good experience for a lot of the younger guys, but a lot of our depth chart is stocked with freshman and sophomores, so there’s experience issues there,” Davis said.
Marquez noted that experience shouldn’t be an issue next year because 11 of the team’s 15 starters are returning.
“The team will be even stronger next year,” he said.
The captain pointed to junior outside center Steve Copacino as an offensive spark for the team. Copacino has 10 tries on the season. The school record currently stands at 17 tries, and both Davis and Marquez think the junior will break it this year.
Sophomore inside center Jared Goodman is also a standout because of his on-field chemistry with Copacino.
“Jared will take the hit and pass off to Copacino, who runs down the field and scores,” Marquez said.
The men’s rugby team was one of the first club teams on Emory’s campus, founded in 1974 by law school student Bob Brazier who played undergraduate rugby at Clemson University.
After finishing second in the league two years ago, the club was asked to move to from USA Rugby Division III to Division II and plays in the Independence Conference along with Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky University, the University of Memphis and Georgia Southern University.
This year’s team is comprised of 30 members, about 75 percent of whom have never played rugby before. The squad practices three times a week and reserves one day for conditioning. The Eagles even organize events for students from Oxford to come to main campus in order to play.
“Everyone is welcome to come out,” said Davis, who hadn’t played rugby until he started at Emory his freshman year.
Though he ran both track and field and cross country in high school, he decided to play rugby in college because it was more of a challenge.
“Rugby is truly a team sport in that everyone relies on each other at every moment of the game,” he said. “When it’s your time to carry the team, failure is not an option ... It’s a moment where you’re really facing the fire and you can’t really get that elsewhere, especially not in college.”
Marquez, though, has played rugby since high school.
“Because of the daily frustrations at Emory and in life in general, I need some way to get the aggression out,” he said, “and rugby is the perfect way to do it.”
The team’s next game is at home against Auburn University (Ala.) on Saturday at 1 p.m in what Davis calls the Eagles “biggest home game of the year.” The match will take place at the Candler Fields, more commonly known as the lower fields.
– Contact Gina Chirillo.