No. 25 ranked rugby gears up for big season

Jessica Hubble | Lariat Photographer Baylor rugby looks to attack the Arizona defense in a 48-5 loss to the Wildcats on April 19, 2017. Photo credit: Jessica Hubble

By Branson Hardcastle | Reporter

Baylor rugby is poised for a big season — It starts the 2017 season ranked No. 25, its highest preseason ranking ever, according to FloRugby.com, the primary source for all collegiate rugby news.

Last year’s team was ranked No. 16 at the end the season when it fell to Arizona (9-4) with a score of 48-5 in the Division I-A National Quarterfinals. It is hoping to build off that strong season and go further in the playoffs this year.

Junior inside center Stewart Morris, team captain, was very excited to see the difference in the club’s attitude.

“We have a little bit of an edge being able to start high,” Morris said. “[Last season] gave everyone confidence that we can do this.”

The confidence the team gained last year continues to grow as they landed their best recruiting class in Baylor history. The Bears added multiple recruits over the course of the year, and that is sure to continue as they find success on the field.

Sophomore Arizona State transfer fullback Ethan Battaglini said the most important part of the club is how quickly someone is welcomed and embraced on the team.

“As a newcomer, I really noticed their work ethic,” Battaglini said. “You can tell they really work hard for each other and whenever a new guy joins they accept him and work hard for him as well.”

Morris, while expressing the team’s passion and eagerness to get back to nationals, also mentioned the teams desire to advance higher in the rankings.

“We all have a chip on our shoulder to play that team again. To all the new guys, we’ve already expressed that we want to meet [Arizona] again on the field,” Morris said. “I don’t think any of them want to be on the team that didn’t go back [to the quarterfinals]. Everyone has motivation to go farther.”

Much of the recent success of the rugby club has to do with volunteer head coach Mason Hering. In what will be his third year at Baylor, Hering has already changed the culture of the club.

“Even when I first came in I think that things have improved. These past three years [Hering] has professionalized us. He gave us a more legitimate feel,” Morris said. “He has done so much for us and our team is very grateful for all that he has done for us.”

Baylor competes in the Red River Conference, which features teams such as Louisiana State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas. Last year’s team brought home the Red River Conference Championship. This season, it will look to add another conference championship and make another deep run in nationals as well.

This is the 25th anniversary of the rugby club. To commemorate the occasion, it will host an anniversary alumni training session at 6 p.m. Friday at Coach’s Smoke BBQ as well as the alumni game at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Baylor Sciences Building fields.

Rugby will kick off its regular season Sept. 23 at home against Texas State.

“They are always a tough team to play. They have been around a long time and they have a lot of good players,” Morris said. “It’s always a challenge, but we always enjoy that game.”