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Rugby team qualifies for national championship



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Bryce Campbell looks to pass the ball while practicing Tuesday. James Benedict and James Benedict Buy Photos

Three minutes remain until practice begins. Players sit on metal bleachers, lace up their cleats and wait for the coach to arrive.

Three of them try to kick a ball into a trash can and laugh when they miss. Another player makes a Spongebob reference.

IU Coach Sopa Enari walks up the hill to Evan Williams Field where his team is waiting for him.

After a quick scrimmage, he brings his team in for some pointers, especially about defense.

“You have to think, ‘what is the best decision that you can make?’” he tells them.

Those decisions will play a large part in the IU rugby team’s next big championship, which is only four weeks away.

After winning the Big Ten Rugby Sevens Tournament on April 18, the rugby team qualified for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship and the College Sevens National Championships.

But the team’s success didn’t always come easy.

After 2006, the rugby team consisted of good players, but they weren’t going anywhere. They stopped advancing in competitions, Enari said.

Enari had coached the rugby team from 1994 to 2006 before he left to work on the West Coast. He was asked to return as coach in 2013. The team went undefeated in the first ?season.

“The boys wanted their rugby career at IU to mean something,” Enari said. “They work hard and they deserve it.”

The team has seen vast improvements since last year — and even just tournament to tournament — Enari said.

Inside center Bryce Campbell said the team had to work to stay focused on its Big Ten Tournament goal.

“We’d been waiting so long to play for a championship and get credit for our hard work,” Campbell said. “April 18. We had that date set so long ago. We stayed focused on that.”

During the Big Ten Tournament, the team competed in five matches, winning each one and beating Wisconsin for the title.

Wisconsin had won the tournament in the fall, so IU knew the Badgers had good players and that it had to work at a faster pace than its opponent.

“At the level that we’re playing at, we’re just moving so much faster than every other team,” winger Antonio Winn said. “Our tempo just dominates the other teams.”

Winning the Big Ten Tournament qualified IU for tournaments in Philadelphia and Denver.

The team decided to focus its attention on the competition in Philadelphia, which will include 20 teams. The tournament will have a higher level of competition, Campbell said.

After finals and graduation, the team will have two practices per day to prepare for the tournament, which is May 30-31.

“We hope we’ll compete well,” Enari said. “There’s an obvious indication of them having a strong will to win.”

After the tournament in Philadelphia, the rugby team will begin work again next August.

Along with its regular Big Ten competition, the team is scheduling matches with varsity teams from across the country. Those teams recruit players from around the world and can provide more competition, Campbell said.

The team is trying to beat the best competition in the country. Enari said he expects the team to compete well again next season.

“Success generates success,” Enari said. “If they put in the work, they can do it. Their hard work has given them the confidence to win.”

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