The Greatest Team Nobody Knows Of
There is a team on campus that has a realistic shot of bringing a national championship home to Buffalo. However, they don't receive any scholarships and most students wouldn't recognize any members of this squad. This mysterious powerhouse is none other than the UB men's rugby team.
Out of the over 100 Division 1 clubs in the country, the Bulls are one of the last 16. The team has made an unprecedented run to the final tournament, and it isn't expecting to be stopped. The news gets better – the first rounds of this national competition are being played at UB.
The Bulls won their state tournament in the fall and, as a result, they were admitted to the national finals.
The tournament will take place the weekend of April 29. Buffalo will play its first match that Friday at 4 p.m. against Southern Connecticut.
Buffalo's sports teams are traditionally underdogs, but the Bulls expect to be one of the best in this tournament. Head coach Mike Hodgins said he thinks the team has an extremely good chance of advancing through the rounds of 16 and eight.
The Bulls remain modest despite their recent success.
"We aren't searching for the same amount of recognition as [the football and basketball teams], but we have accomplished a lot this year and we'd like people at school to know about it," said senior wing player John Geoghan. "We want to get as many people out to these games to support us as possible."
The tournament is single elimination. One loss means the dream ends for the Bulls. A loss would end the squad's season, but it wouldn't separate the team. Almost the entire team lives together in several houses in the University Heights.
"Our cheer before the games has always been ‘family,'" said senior team second row player James Dietterich. "The term holds true for us."
Hodgins has been blown away by the team's cohesion.
"When we go into a practice or a game, they're very positive," Hodgins said. "They're very supportive of each other. They're focused."
Sophomore outside center Tyler Norris explained that team chemistry is more essential in rugby than in other sports. He said one or two star players can carry a team in basketball and football, but in order to succeed in rugby, fifteen players must play together.
An important bench mark for Buffalo came two weeks ago against Bowling Green, the No. 1 ranked team in the country. The Bulls narrowly dropped the match, but they put a serious scare in the Falcons.
"We put up a pretty good show against [Bowling Green]," Dietterich said. "It showed us that we have a really good shot at winning the national championship. It's not just a pipe dream; it's something we can do."
Dietterich, Geoghan, and wing player Brandon Wood are seniors who have played together for four years. The trio has gelled and as a result, so has the rest of the team.
"Usually when people see rugby, they don't see teams that play together," Geoghan said. "They see a lot of [unorganized chaos]. But in this tournament, you'll see teams that play together. They're very well coached. We've thrown thousands of passes between each other."
Rugby isn't a predictable sport. The scores of games range from 130-120 to 3-0. When viewers watch the team play, there's no telling what surprises could be in store.
In the fall, the Bulls were the top-ranked team in the U.S. for six weeks. As teams on the West Coast started conference play, Buffalo suffered several detrimental injuries to key players. The squad has rebuilt and reloaded since, and it's hoping that its peak comes at just the right time.
Hodgins encourages UB students to go to the tournament and support the team.
"[Students should] come out and support the guys," Hodgins said. "It's a lot of fun and we'd like having UB supporters out there showing their colors. We're a very grassroots organization. Anybody can join the team; anybody can show up. It's a student organization, so it'd be good to have student support."
Dietterich supported his coach's plea. He said though the football and basketball seasons are over, the tournament gives students, including those who aren't familiar with rugby, the chance to come out and root for a UB team.
The match preceding Buffalo's features Harvard and Northeastern. The consolation game will be played Sunday, May 1 at 11 a.m., and the winners of Friday's matches will follow at 1 p.m. The winner of the final match earns a spot in the final four. All matches will be played at the football practice field (behind the football stadium).
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