Feeding off of the crowd wasn’t an option, but one under-the-radar Penn team still found a way to win last Wednesday.
Penn men’s rugby pulled off its first tournament win of the season, capturing the City Six Sevens Tournament hosted by LaSalle. The Quakers played four games over the course of the day against fellow members of the City Six, which also includes Drexel, Nova, LaSalle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple.
Penn dropped its first game to Temple, 19-15, before bouncing back to take down the Hawks, 26-12. The win helped the Red and Blue qualify for the semifinals, setting up a showdown with neighboring Drexel.
A thrilling battle against the Dragons ensued, with the teams going to sudden-death overtime knotted at 12 apiece. The Quakers pulled out the 19-12 victory, qualifying for the finals.
Temple also qualified for the championship game, giving the Red and Blue a chance to avenge their opening-game defeat. Penn took advantage, beating the Owls 26-17 to win the tournament.
“It was a fantastic win,” team president and junior Andrew Janssens said. “It was pretty dramatic, coming from a sudden-death overtime win in the semifinals, to beat a team we had lost to in the qualifying matches.
“I think it was a long time coming for us. It was big because we really integrated some of the newer players, and they played a key role in the end. Overall, it was a great win.”
Interestingly, coach Nick Walker was away for the tournament, and junior Daleroy Sibanda had to coach in his place. A native of Zimbabwe, Sibanda and his brother Leroy are two of many international players on the team. Janssens, who hails from England, estimated that half the team is international.
Rugby isn’t sanctioned by the NCAA, and as a club sport it is tough for it to gain traction on the collegiate level. Given rugby’s overall lack of popularity in the United States, it’s not surprising that Penn men’s club rugby has yet to gain a huge following.
But don’t tell that to the guys on the team.
“We are no less qualified to be considered ‘athletes,’ even if we technically aren’t an official NCAA sport,” freshman Billy Kacyem said. “I came into rugby thinking that all we were going to do was in fact ‘have fun and play,’ but there’s a lot more to it. There’s a certain amount of structure, skill and, most important of all, focus required to play the game.”
“It’s never bothered me too much,” Janssens said of the lack of popular interest. “People who grow up playing rugby, they don’t grow up with the big crowds.”
Besides, Janssens said, American rugby is on the upswing.
“Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the US. It’s going to be in the Olympics in 2016. So it’s receiving more and more attention every year.”
Janssens “appreciates” American football, but finds rugby more exciting because of the continuous flow of action. He understands that there will always be people who don’t think rugby is as entertaining, but, like Kacyem, Janssens won’t put up with the notion that the sport — at any level — is easy.
“People assume that, because it’s a club sport, it’s not particularly competitive,” Janssens said. “But we play at Nationals, and we train a lot for a club sport.”
Still skeptical? Kacyem has a simple solution: “Come see us practice and play.”
Clearly, after last week’s tournament victory, something must be working.Comments powered by Disqus
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