Men’s Rugby Club reaches playoffs in past two seasons, hopes for third

    Student athletes drive team to success in absence of non-player coach

    More stories from Lauren French


    Photo by Lauren French

    UW-Eau Claire Men’s Rugby Club members Ryan Floen, Joe Zimmer and Riley Wingate warm up with some drills at Bollinger Fields before practice on Sept. 22.

    After making it to the playoffs two years in a row – a feat the UW-Eau Claire men’s Rugby Club hasn’t seen in a while – club members said their goal this season is to continue the streak.

    The team plays rugby sevens – rugby played with seven athletes instead of 15 – in the spring and was just one game shy of heading to nationals last year.

    “It’s probably one of the best teams we’ve had in the last few years,” Riley Wingate, a former four-year rugby player, said of the 25 guys on the team.

    Wingate said all but two players from last year’s team returned to the field this season and they’ve welcomed seven or eight new players to the ranks.

    The club is still accepting new members, and Wingate said new additions don’t need to have previous rugby experience. Players who have been on the team for a while are willing to help new players learn the ropes, Wingate said.

    Alex Stekel, a fifth-year senior business management major, is one of the new players on the team. He said he heard about the club through friends and decided to join even though he didn’t have a lot of experience with the sport.

    “They (club members) are all more than willing to give me advice,” Stekel said.

    Since the team doesn’t have a non-student coach, all players receive help from their rugby peers. Two of the team’s players double as student coaches – Josh Johnson and Christian Harden – who each have about eight years of experience playing rugby.

    Johnson said what he’s most looking forward to about the season is simply playing rugby again.

    “I’ve never met a person that played in a rugby game and didn’t love it,” Johnson said.

    Wingate said the other teams Eau Claire play against typically have coaches, which is a slight disadvantage for the Eau Claire men’s Rugby Club. However, he also said not having a coach forces the players to work together.

    “In a way, it does help strengthen our team, Wingate said. “Because we do have to put all our time and effort into it ourselves and become a better team and a better unit that way.”

    The club started the season with a win against Milwaukee School of Engineering 50-10 last weekend and has three games left before playoffs in November. This Saturday, the Eau Claire men’s Rugby Club will face off against UW-Stevens Point on Bollinger Field, which Johnson said will likely be the hardest game of their regular season.

    After an Oct. 3 game in Madison, the club will play on Oct. 17 yet again on home turf against Michigan Technological University.