Column: The Rise of Cedarville Rugby

In November 2009, Andrew Held gathered a group of his friends and headed for the old intramural field to play his sport of choice – rugby. The field is small, located between Apple and Williams Hall. There were just a few guys present who knew little about the sport.

Every Friday this group of guys would head out to the same field and play for two hours. Some weeks, four guys would come and other weeks upward of 10. They were completely irrelevant to most of Cedarville’s campus.

Nearly four years later, Cedarville University Rugby has become very successful and competitive against other colleges in the Midwest. Rugby is a club sport and not sanctioned by the NCAA, but that hasn’t diminished the team’s enthusiasm.

They have won a little over 80 percent of their games and continue to gather victories this fall. They played their first official match against Wright State in September 2011 and won 24-5. That year, their season record was 15-6-1.

Winning the first match of their young careers was a huge relief for the team.

“For a few years, we only played pickup games, so we had a desire to play real matches,” said Dave Haywood, a senior on the team. “When it all finally came together, there was so much excitement, and we were really ready to play other teams. It was a culmination of three years of hard work.”

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Rugby team member Bo Folger says the team wants to expand their fan base. | Photo From: Jillian Philyaw

With the exception of a handful that played in high school, most of the guys had never touched a rugby ball until they came to Cedarville. The captains of the team had tremendous patience and leadership to teach students a set of rules and positions.

Held, an exercise science major who graduated in May, was the key cog that put the rugby team together. He acted as a coach and player for the team during their beginning stages. An experienced rugby player himself, Held knew what it would take to create a successful rugby team that could compete with other schools.

Between fall 2009 and fall 2013, an admirable amount of work has been poured into putting this team on the field.

“Everyone out there has put a ton of work in to learn the game,” said senior Chris Wiegand, “especially our captains and coaches, who are students that put in a lot of extra time and effort.”

By the time the rugby team played its first match, it had leadership from players such as Held, Haywood, Wiegand and Jordan Countryman. Those guys helped the younger players and turned them into key contributors.

Although Held was the founder of Cedarville’s rugby team, he could not have accomplished this without those other students. Around since 2009, Countryman – a 2013 Cedarville graduate who still plays – Haywood and Wiegand have been with Cedarville rugby since then.

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Cedarville University Rugby has won close to 70 percent of their games. | Photo From: Jillian Philyaw

“The rugby team has come a long way since it started in 2011,” Wiegand said. “Most of the team was just learning the game when the program started, and now we’re teaching the game to a new group of players.”

What makes Cedarville University Rugby impressive is the immediate success they enjoyed. Most startup teams typically take a few years to become competitive for a plethora of reasons.

Newly-formed teams struggle to be successful because of the wrong personnel, a lack of cohesion among athletes or being ill-suited for competition against other teams. Cedarville’s rugby team failed to follow these guidelines for new teams. In their third year of competitive play, the team has yet to experience a losing record.

Plenty has changed for Cedarville University Rugby since its humble beginnings in 2009. Unfortunately, one aspect has not changed much: recognition from the student body.

Cedarville University Rugby is one of the most successful athletic teams on campus, but they have remained hidden from most of the school. This is a sport like no other at Cedarville. Cedarville hasn’t had a contact sport since the football team in the 1950s.

Part of the problem is that rugby does not have a substantial following in America. It is trumped by sports such as football, baseball and basketball. It is difficult for rugby to compete against these sports because they are near and dear to the hearts of Americans.

Considering rugby is less important to Americans than other sports, it was a daunting task to start a club team at Cedarville. What makes the team’s existence more impressive is that a student spearheaded the operation.

Following graduation, Held passed the coaching responsibilities to Chris Rousseau, a current captain of the team. It was an easy decision because Rousseau is an experienced rugby player who played internationally. Rousseau, along with fellow captain junior Ryan Komarek, are confident the team will be in good hands after they graduate.

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Cedarville’s rugby team played their first official match in 2011. | Photo From: Jillian Philyaw

So what can Cedarville students do to help? Wiegand said they should come out to watch the team. He makes it clear that nothing is more important than having spectators watching them during home matches. Having fan support gives the team extra motivation to play hard. Junior Bo Folger wants to see the support for Cedarville University Rugby grow.

“Helping out at fundraisers and going to the games are most important,” Folger said. “We want to expand our fan base.”

The team has accomplished its most important goal since their first match against Wright State: representing Christ on and off the field. Their foundation is built on honoring Christ with how they play and conduct themselves.

After every match, Cedarville asks the opposing team if they want to pray with them. They have kept in mind that, win or lose, representing Christ in an honoring and pleasing fashion is the essence of Cedarville.

Cedarville University Rugby is winning games and, more importantly, representing Christ with their actions on and off the field. It would be a shame for the student body to miss out on watching the rugby team.

Beau Michaud is a senior communications and economics major and a sports reporter for Cedars. He competes on the track and field team. Follow him at @beaumichaud13.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the team had won close to 70 percent of its matches. The story has been updated to reflect the correct number, which is a little over 80 percent.

Related Stories

Wittenberg Rugby Defeats Cedarville in Close Contest (September 2013)

The Emergence of Cedarville Rugby: Discussing the team with club president and coach Andrew Held (April 2012)

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