IU rugby eyes consecutive Big Ten titles


The IU rugby team on October 29th before playing Wisconsin. Courtesy and Courtesy

When IU rugby head coach Sopa Enari initially took charge of the club rugby team in 1994, he inherited a program that was floundering. The team was known more for its off-field antics than its on-field performance.

Enari knew a change was necessary in order to transform IU into into a high-achieving team, so he instituted discplinary measures to get the club back on track.

“The social part of the club was more important to most of the players,” Enari said. “I said I don’t care who you are, how good you think you are or how rich your dad is or whatever, if I know you drink on Friday, you have three options. You can stay home, be a water boy or bring your pom-poms with you.”

Twenty-two years later and with Enari in his second spell as coach, the Hoosiers are one of the top collegiate rugby programs in the Midwest, despite their club status.

Enari arrived following a season in which the IU men’s rugby club had lost to Ball State and Xavier, two smaller schools without the rugby pedigree of IU. Regarding the on-field results, Enari said wanted to start by avenging those defeats before taking on bigger challenges.

“I wanted to play Ball State and Xavier again. We beat Xavier, and that was the last time Xavier wanted to play us,” Enari said. “We also beat Ball State handily, and from then on, IU has not lost to them.”

Enari then set IU rugby’s sights on dominating the state of Indiana before moving on to regional and national competitions. After three years, Enari guided the Hoosiers to the local union Indiana Championship before also competing for the Division 1A Championship.

Consistency is now a hallmark of IU rugby, and it has been three years since IU lost a match to another Big Ten school. The success for IU has gone beyond Big Ten play. IU scored victories against varsity programs like Kutztown and Davenport in 2015 as part of a perfect 12-0 fall season.

So far this season, the only blemish for the Hoosiers came in a one-point loss to Notre Dame, another varsity program. IU will have a chance to claim consecutive Big Ten Championships on Saturday afternoon in Elkhart, Indiana, against Ohio State.

Senior IU rugby player Jacob Garwood has been a member of the team for the past five years and credits the camaraderie among team members with helping create a winning mentality.

“We’re out on the field working hard for each other and bleeding for each other and we’re winning,” Garwood said. “A lot of us have known each other for a while since we all played Indiana high school rugby. We all get along well.”

The club faces more challenges than a varsity sport when it comes to securing places to practice and funding, which Garwood knows well as president of the club. After the club’s normal practice space at Evan Williams Field on 10th street closed because of a fungus infestation, it took time to get approved to practice at the Student Recreational Sports Center turf complex.

IU’s ability to compete against varsity opposition on the field can be largely attributed to Enari, who left the program in 2006 to work as a psychotherapist and a hospice chaplain. After being asked back to the program following the 2013 season, Enari told the players to choose whether they wanted to be a competitive team or not.

“They said they wanted to win games and wanted their IU rugby career to mean something to them,” Enari said. “I said if you commit yourself to work hard, then I will be in.”

Since Enari’s return, IU’s performances on the field have even led to some players, like senior Bryce Campbell, receiving call-ups to the United States national team. Such call-ups increase exposure for IU rugby.

However, heading into this weekend Enari and his players are solely focused on continuing IU’s undefeated run in the Big Ten.

“If we win the Big Ten championship, we will definitely reach the national championship,” Enari said. “Before anything though, we have to kill this monster on Saturday first.”

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