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MTSU rugby team falls short in Elite Eight competition

The MTSU Rugby Club’s run toward a national title ended over the weekend with a loss to Notre Dame College (Ohio) in an Elite Eight matchup, according to the Goff Rugby Report.MTSU Rugby logo

Coached by MTSU alum and former player Jody Hensley, the 32-member team competed in its second Elite Eight appearance in the USA Rugby National Championships and the first since 2000.

You can follow the team through its @MTSURugby account on Twitter and the MTSU Rugby Fans page on Facebook.


 

MTSU rugby team playing in Elite Eight this weekend

April 21, 2016

The 2015-16 academic year has been a wonderful time for MTSU athletics with both the men’s and women’s basketball teams capturing conference championships and appearances in their respective NCAA tournaments.

The women’s golf team also repeated their Conference USA championship this spring, and excitement is also bubbling around the football team with the return of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

But there’s another Blue Raider team that should have campus excited about an impressive run of its own — the MTSU Rugby Club. The 32-member team has advanced all the way to the Elite Eight in the USA Rugby National Championships, just the second such run in program history and the first since 2000.

The MTSU Rugby Club will play Ohio’s Notre Dame College on Saturday, April 23, in Bowling Green, Ohio. A victory will secure the team’s first spot in the Final Four and a chance to compete for the Men’s Division 1-AA national title in California.

In this March photo, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, center, poses for a photo with the MTSU Rugby Club, which will compete in the Elite Eight in Ohio on Saturday, April 23, for a spot in the Final Four of the USA Rugby National Championships. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Rugby)

In this March photo, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, center holding ball, poses for a photo with the MTSU Rugby Club, which will compete in the Elite Eight in Ohio on Saturday, April 23, for a spot in the Final Four of the USA Rugby National Championships. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Rugby)

As head coach, MTSU alumnus and former player Jody Hensley has been instrumental in reshaping the rugby team, racking up numerous South Independent Rugby Conference titles and bids to the national championship tournament.

MTSU plays in a conference that includes Central Florida, Florida International, Florida State, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, Memphis and South Florida.

Having watched the program’s progress over the years, Hensley said this team, the most successful during his tenure, is truly special.

“We’re definitely not a big team in comparison when we step out on the field, we’re always the little guy. We gameplan around our strengths and let our speed attack the bigger guys and let our endurance take over,” said Hensley.

It took years to mold the program into what it is today, but Hensley’s main focus centered on shedding the stigma of a “bad rugby reputation” at MTSU.

“A lot of these guys just weren’t used to winning. So our main focus was to clear that up, because there are so many good athletes out here,” Hensley added. “We have guys out here who have represented their country playing rugby and sometimes people write them off because this is just a club team.”

In this March photo, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee speaks to the rugby team at their practice in preparation for an upcoming Sweet 16 match. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Rugby)

In this March photo, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee speaks to the rugby team at their practice in preparation for an upcoming Sweet 16 match. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Rugby)

MTSU Rugby logo

Hensley set out to change that. As the team’s success began growing and they were afforded the ability to offer limited scholarships, he was able to begin recruiting and improving the talent pool.

Now players such as senior captain Josh Pentecost actually choose the university for its outstanding rugby team.

“I love this team,” Pentecost said. “In my four years with the program this has been my favorite team to be a part of. I would say the aspect of our team is one of a family.”

Pentecost graduated from high school in Canada and was drawn back to the States due to the performance of MTSU’s rugby team and the campus proximity to his grandparents, who also live in Murfreesboro.

“We know what it takes to win on this level now and these guys know what it takes for us to win a national championship and I would love to end my senior year with a title,” he said.

While men’s rugby is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, it is a fast growing club sport on college campuses nationwide. On campus, men’s and women’s rugby are overseen by Campus Recreation.

The Elite Eight game against Notre Dame College will be taped and broadcast at a later time. For game and team updates follow the @MTSURugby account on Twitter and the MTSU Rugby Fans page on Facebook for more information.

For more information about USA Rugby, visit http://usarugby.org.

— Steven Michael Johnson (news@mtsu.edu)

In this April photo, several members of the MTSU Rugby Club pose for photo following a sevens tournament. (Courtesy of MTSU Rugby)

In this April photo, several members of the MTSU Rugby Club pose for photo following a sevens tournament. (Courtesy of MTSU Rugby)