Men’s rugby overcomes obstacles to reach playoffs

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson
GVSU Mens Club Rugby play in a game earlier this year

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson GVSU Mens Club Rugby play in a game earlier this year

Kevin VanAntwerpen

Despite losing key players over the last two years and having what the team called a “mediocre” 2009 season, the Grand Valley State University men’s rugby team rose this year with a 5-2 record and will to the Midwest Championship in Pittsburgh this weekend.

“We’ve had a goal of winning the Midwest Championship since last year,” said senior rugby club president Blake Carapuz. “We’ve strictly focused on that.”

Preparing the team for the playoffs has not been easy for the Lakers. The past two years have been rebuilding years after losing 15 seniors after the 2008 season. Since then the team has focused on restructuring and adding additional training periods.

“The biggest thing was our off-season training,” said senior Ryan Lennon. “We’ve always worked out in the off season, but the last couple of years we’ve picked up our training times. We’re not taking any time off during the year.”

The practice schedule has paid off with the season’s two losses being very close, and one game coming down to a referee’s call at the end of the match.

“We feel like we’re good enough to be an undefeated team,” Lennon said.

Head coach Jon Mullet said the Lakers had an excellent off-season, which contributed to their in-season success.

“When we started at Grand Valley, we became known very quickly for our physicality,” he said. “We were probably the hardest hitting college rugby team in Michigan. We’ve managed to maintain that physicality but also gained a lot of athleticism and sophistication.

“I expected us to be good this season,” Mullet added. “But I don’t know if I expected us to be this good this quickly. We’ve returned this fall as probably the best team in Michigan.”

The weekend trip was the fourth time the team has made to the playoffs since 2005. As they prepared to travel out of state, Mullet said the team would represent GVSU like gentlemen out of gratitude.

“The school has taken us very seriously for a club sport,” Mullet said. “There’s a little bit of debt to be repaid for the attention and support that we’ve been given over the years.”

Lennon said the team members try to maintain a professional attitude on and off the field by remaining kind and refusing to use foul language.

“Whenever we travel, we always keep in mind that we’re representing Grand Valley and GVSU rugby,” he said. “Wherever you go, rugby players are kind of viewed as the party animals. We’ve definitely made an effort to change that. We try to put our best foot forward and act as professionally as possible.”

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