Coming off an undefeated (3-0) fall season in the North Central League, the Blue Ox rugby club hopes to continue its success this weekend at the Division III tournament at the Eagan Community Center in Eagan, Minn.
The team faces St. Olaf in the final four matchup at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17. If the Blue Ox win, the team advances to the championship, in which it takes on Bemidji State or Viterbo University.
Win or lose, the team will play Sunday in either the championship game at 1 p.m., or for third place at 9:30 a.m.
These matches will conclude the team’s league play. Three fall matches are set up by the Minnesota Rugby Union with the best teams making it to the final tournament. The Blue Ox will play a few more “friendly” matches after this weekend before looking ahead to the spring season.
Rounding out the fall season
The scrappy team has made quite the name for themselves. The Blue Ox is now gaining the recognition the team’s been longing for.
“When we talk about it, we look at it like, two years ago we were in the same spot, but we were just looking to win one game,” co-captain Sam Glynn said. “Two years later we are looking to win the championship already for D-III and it’s crazy.”
As word spread about the team in the offseason, new recruits have brought together a more complete team of athletes and new freshmen. With the addition of consistent players, the Blue Ox no longer has to rely on core members to carry the weight of the team.
“I think we’re playing as a team,” co-captain Sam Prenevost said. “There were a lot of really good individual athletes last season and it’s really brought the team together to play well. The vibes are just a lot better and everyone’s being utilized, not just a few key assets.”
Glynn said that as the team becomes more established, players are becoming more serious about playing.
“Before people would just show up on game days or we’d have 14 guys at a game or not even have enough to play,” he said. “It’s still very laid-back, but we work hard and that’s something we want to show to the freshmen.”
The team’s three fall wins were against St. John’s, St. Cloud State and Southwest Minnesota State.
New sponsors, new coach, new outlook
This fall the team secured their first sponsor, Brit’s Pub. The Minneapolis bar gave the team $600 to help cover expenses, such as the $80 player’s fee. The team was also able to use some of that money to get field time at Merriam Park for practices three hours per week. The addition of field space has helped the team because the Blue Ox normally scrambled around campus to practice anywhere possible.
“We’re at a point where we actually have our own field and we don’t have to worry about getting kicked off of St. Thomas’ fields anymore,” Glynn said. “We’re doing our own thing and we don’t have to worry about Public Safety.”
The team also secured sponsors with Schell’s Brewing Company. Schell’s will donate $700 to the team before the spring season, and Tiffany’s Sports Lounge this fall hosted a benefit at which the team made $700.
“It was a ton of fun,” Prenevost said. “There was a ton of people there.”
With the additional sponsorship money, the team’s first goal is to buy new jerseys, which will cost up to $2,000.
This fall, the Blue Ox has Dennis Hogenson as a head coach. The former Blue Ox and experienced rugby player has been a huge asset to the team’s success. The team also gets help from the Macalester rugby coach, who offered to volunteer his time to give the team overall advice.
Becoming a sustainable club
For the Blue Ox, not being a St. Thomas affiliated club has advantages and disadvantages. The team is making money from sponsors that the school may not be able to match, even if the bars are sources that may be frowned upon. On the other hand, the team would like to have the rights to a home field at St. Thomas, because most of its games are too far for fans to travel.
“We still don’t have a home field, because that hurts us immensely on campus,” Glynn said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people that will say, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool when is your next home game?’ And I have to say, ‘If you want to drive an hour to Gustavus to watch us play you can.’”
The team also has a conflict of interest with some of its consistent members who are from other schools. Becoming an official St. Thomas club would mean these players would be ineligible to play.
In the end, the team’s captains agree that the key to establishing a sustainable club is eventually becoming affiliated with St. Thomas.
“We could be on campus, we could advertise, and we could have games at the stadium,” Prenevost said. “I would love to do that before I left, because it would make the club last.”
Being a St. Thomas club would also mean a chance to play in the national tournament.
“If we win the D-III championship this weekend we can’t go to nationals because we aren’t sponsored by the school,” Glynn said. “We just have to have the school name attached to us, but we can’t do that. That’s one huge opportunity that we miss out on.”
Matt Linden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org