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Men’s rugby club searching for new conference

Men’s rugby club searching for new conference

04/06/17, Denton, TexasMen’s rugby team practices every Tuesdays and Thursdays evening at UNT Rugby Complex, which is next to Library Annex Recreational Sports Equipment, 1001 Precision Drive, Denton, Texas.Credit: Koji Ushio

Men’s rugby club searching for new conference
April 11
21:04 2017

The UNT men’s rugby team currently has a problem. Unlike official NCAA sports and other intramural teams, men’s rugby lacks something necessary to compete – a conference.

After the DI-AA Southwest Conference dissolved, UNT was left with no conference, no guaranteed opponents and a scheduling nightmare. This past summer, three teams dropped out of the conference, leaving only UNT and Texas State University remaining and scrambling to find competition.

But all that might be about to change.

On Saturday, club president Nathan Lonngren and assistant coach Andrew Marshall made the trip to Austin to make a bid to become the 10th team in the DI-A Red River Conference. Although they have not heard if they were accepted yet, joining the Red River Conference would eliminate scheduling headaches and give UNT access to elite competition such as Oklahoma University, Louisiana State University and the University of Texas at Austin.

“The struggle of trying to find games makes everything else harder on us,” Lonngren said. “We literally call or email the other coaches from the other clubs, and contact the other schools who we had played to get those chances to play.”

The only other team vying for a spot in the Red River Conference is Texas State – the other school left out in the cold when the Southwest Conference disbanded. UNT has already applied for this conference once before when the Southwest Conference originally dissolved, but their bid was denied.

They refused to give up, however, and are back again, hoping for a second chance at finding a permanent conference to compete in.

“Lonngren and I made a presentation to the nine coaches,” Marshall said. “We told them everything that we could bring to the conference and a big thing is a strong competitive team that has proven itself on the national level.”

UNT is hoping a selling point for the conference will be its head coach, Michael Engelbrecht, who has experience coaching national championship teams.

Along with serving as UNT’s coach for the past three years, Engelbrecht is currently on the USA rugby nationals coaching staff, where he coaches the under 20s team working with high school All-Americans. With the national team, the USA has won the college sevens national championship three years in a row, and for the first time in 15 years, went to the USA rugby college 15s national tournament.

“A lot of what we do at the collegiate level is developing young men,” Engelbrecht said. “I’m hoping the decision makers know my track record, my history and what I’m about in terms of culture.”

The men’s rugby team practices every Tuesday and Thursday evenings at UNT Rugby Complex. Koji Ushio

Along with Engelbrecht, UNT is also betting on its own success in hopes of making it into the Red River conference. This season, the Mean Green are 7-3 in regular 15s and have defeated several teams in the Red River Conference by double digits, knocking off Baylor 75-3 and Houston 65-27.

Despite their success, Engelbrecht described their season as disjointed.

“We have been doing both 15s and sevens which are very different games with different decisions, tactics and strategies,” Engelbrecht said. “I have to give the players credit because they have been coming out here, working hard and learning more about the game.”

The two different games are not only separated by the number of men on the field but also the length of the game. In sevens, teams play seven-minute halves instead of the usual 15 players playing 40-minute halves.

Even the number of substitutes allowed varies with five for sevens and seven with 15s.

And although their minds have not been focused on one particular variation of the sport, UNT attended two regional qualifiers this season for sevens and attended the USA rugby college 15s national championship April 8th.

All without a conference.

“It was hard for us to get into 15s playoffs,” Lonngren said. “But we got in at-large [bid], which is when we send in our resume and then people on a committee will pick the team for the bid. Thankfully we were picked.”

UNT has not heard back from the Red River Conference yet but is hoping for a decision to be made within the week.

Recently at nationals, UNT lost to Florida State University 30-28 in the quarterfinals and Brown 41-38 in consolation. Even though they didn’t take home the hardware, members of the team are happy they proved they could compete on the national stage.

Now they just hope they proved to the committee why they belong in the Red River Conference.

“I think they could benefit from us being there,” Marshall said. “Hopefully they see that, too.”

Featured Image: The men’s rugby team practices every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the UNT Rugby Complex. Koji Ushio

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Samantha Morrow

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