Team ranked in the top 20 in the country for first time ever
The UNLV men’s rugby team is composed of around 25 active members and went almost undefeated last year. It also managed to rank in the top 20 schools nationally in their division for this year, a first for the team.
“We have been working hard and earned No. 20 pre-season ranking,” said UNLV men’s rugby coach Garrick Strong. “I think we have a good chance of going to the payoffs and winning the [National] championship.”
The team plays in Division II in the Intermountain West Conference.
“We eventually want to move [to Division I],” team captain and club president James Cassidy said. “But it is mandated that we competed in Division II for one year before we move.”
Cassidy, who is entering his sixth year with the team, stated that before applying for Division I, UNLV’s men’s Rugby team would need to have 35 to 40 members on the team, which is why recruiting students is of the utmost importance.
“We’ve had some success so far with getting new players and trying to get some more guys out,” he said. “Graduate students can join the team. They just have to be in good standing with the university.”
The team has no scholarship funds for players, a potential hinderance to the team’s recruitment efforts, as many of the current players split time between school, rugby and work.
“Other schools give scholarships for students,” said team member Stephen Spelman. “None of the students here have scholarships. We actually pay to be on the team with our dues.”
Players pay about $100 in fees, which covers expenses such as gear and traveling, with some travelling expenses paid out of pocket by each member of the team.
Strong believes the fact that his players don’t get scholarships makes them true student-athletes because they play for the love of the sport.
“Our guys are athletes,” he said. “They are just not on athletics scholarships. Not to put down other guys that are here because of their scholarships, but our guys chose to be at UNLV and chose to compete.”
Strong said if there were a scholarship fund for members of the team, they would be able to recruit more athletes and members could focus more on playing rugby, rather than having to work to pay their way through school.
The team has had trouble with recruiting due in part to rugby not being a well-known sport in the U.S.
“Many people don’t know about rugby,” Spelman said. “Even though Rugby and soccer are the most popular sports in the world.”
Team members are able to receive perks for being on the team, as companies are beginning to sponsor them.
“TapouT began sponsoring us this summer,” Cassidy said. “Players…can train at TapouT for free now.”
The team practices twice a week and is receptive to students who have no experience playing rugby.
“Any student is welcome to come out and play,” Strong said. “We don’t have tryouts. If [you] played a sport in high school and miss the competition, then rugby might be a great fit for [you].”
The team will travel to Reno this weekend to play a pre-season game against Nevada, Reno, after which the members will go to the UNLV-UNR football game to support the Rebels.
For more information on the team, check out unlvrebelsrugby.com.