Club rugby rising in popularity at GVSU

GVL Archive
A member of the Mens Rugby team powers through the defense

GVL Archives

GVL Archive A member of the Men’s Rugby team powers through the defense

Jon Van Zytveld

Few Americans know much about rugby other than its resemblance to a more violent football, but it’s becoming harder to ignore as a growing number of athletes choose rugby over more traditional sports.

The Grand Valley State University men’s club rugby team, now in its 14th year, is gearing up for another season. Coming off of last season’s third-place finish in the Midwest Rugby Championships, the Lakers started their season with a 28-0 victory against Hope College, and followed it up with a 16-5 victory over Western Michigan University.

Head coach John Mullett, who has coached the Lakers since the team’s inception, described the sport as a game of stamina, saying that the team that wins is the team that reacts better under pressure.

“It’s a constant action game,” Mullett said. “There are only a few stoppages of play, and it’s exciting to watch. It’s physically challenging, there are two 40-minute halves, and if people get hurt, they get treated right on the field and the game goes on around them. It’s a little bit culturally different from what people are used to with American sports.”

While most universities do not have varsity rugby programs – as it is not a mainstream sport – it is on the rise, and as senior fullback Matt Orrico said, there is no reason why football fans and sports fans in general should not enjoy the sport.

“I played football for four years,” Orrico said. “It’s kind of like football, so I thought I’d give it a shot and I ended up loving it.”

As a club sport, rugby is open to everyone, even those who have no experience. This just adds to the deep sense of community that the 22-man team has.

“We’re a very close club, and we have a lot of fun together,” Orrico said. “There’s very good sense of team camaraderie, and I personally really like that about our team. Rugby is pretty simple, you can pick it up just by playing, and it’s pretty inexpensive compared to many other sports.”

Like his teammate, senior lock/8-man Mario Zambito got into rugby through football and friends. After playing football for many years before college, Zambito almost joined the GVSU football team, but opted for the rugby club instead; he said he has not regretted the decision.

Like all things, Zambito said, getting into rugby is only a matter of giving it a chance.

“Most people that come out and watch their first game find it interesting, even if they didn’t know anything about it before,” he said. “Everyone should definitely check it out and come see it for themselves.”

With a 2-0 record under their belt, the Lakers are setting their sights high this season.

“This year we’re hoping to repeat what we did last year and then go further,” Zambito said. “Looking at the numbers and the work ethic we have, it’s a definite possibility. We just have to show up on game days and put in our time in practice and I think we’ll be good to go.”

The team’s next game will take place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Wayne State University.

[email protected]