National Small College Rugby Organization LLC: Latest News: University of Texas - Dallas : A "tip of the hat" from NSCRO.

Wednesday, February 1
University of Texas - Dallas : A "tip of the hat" from NSCRO.

On top of their game: Young rugby program, players have turned competitive 

The story of UTD’s rugby team thus far could probably be turned into a classic sports movie: the underdogs with little depth or experience rising up and upsetting all the other established teams in the area. Although the notion sounds like fiction, the Comets have done just that. What started as nothing more than a few guys meeting at the intramural fields to play some rugby has evolved into a nationally ranked collegiate rugby club.

The story begins with the rugby club’s president and team captain, senior Nathan Sohadaseni, who acted as the catalyst for the club’s recent rapid development. Sohadaseni transferred to UTD in the fall of 2010. He had played rugby throughout most of his life, and he wanted to continue playing in college. Naturally, he came out to the so-called rugby club’s practices, which, in reality, consisted of about five guys who came out to play for fun. Sohadaseni was not satisfied with the turnouts, so he decided to try recruiting people to play during the spring of 2011.

“We just started recruiting a lot of people and a lot of friends,” Sohadeseni said. “We would be at the gym, and go up to people and say, ‘Hey, you’re a big guy. Ever think of playing rugby?’ And by the end of that semester, we had about 15 people.”

From there, the team moved into fundraising and even more recruitment in the summer. Team representatives set up an advertising booth at every freshman orientation, and the group hosted various events to raise money to fund the club. By early fall 2011, the club tripled in size, and the players fundraised enough to purchase team jerseys.

The next phase in the club’s development was actually playing and learning the game, as many of the members had little to no experience with the sport. Fortunately, perfect circumstances befell the team as it was lucky enough to receive the guidance of coach Tony Wagner. Wagner was the collegiate director of the Texas Rugby Union at the time when Sohadaseni first contacted him in the spring. Although Sohadaseni initially wanted to simply receive information on how to turn the club competitive and join a league, he wound up unintentionally acquiring a coach for the team as well — and a highly experienced one at that. Wagner played for many years in his youth and then coached at various schools, including SMU, before eventually becoming the Texas collegiate director. Once he stepped in as the Comets’ coach, the team began to find its rhythm and really got moving.

“Coach really helped us out. He started from square one, and I totally understood that,” Sohadeseni said. “I know it’s not an easy game to learn. He did a really good job of taking us from nothing. I don’t know where we would be without him.”

Of course, it took some time before the squad got onto the right track and had some success on the field. Early this past fall, the Comets played in a local tournament in which they played three games in a single day, and they subsequently lost all of their matches. The team suffered a similar fate in its next two tournaments, until finally placing third in the following tournament. That was when things turned around for the team.

From that tournament, UTD entered Division III collegiate league play. It won its first league game, then the second and then the third. Now, the team boasts a 3-0 record with two more regular season league games left. Furthermore, it is ranked 16th nationally in Division III collegiate play. Even though the team is in its inaugural season, Sohadeseni already aims to finish as the first seed in the league, as the Comets have already qualified for the playoffs. The captain’s most ambitious hope is to reach the national tournament in Nebraska this spring.

“Everyone is really starting to believe, especially since we’ve been doing so well. A lot of those guys haven’t really even played sports, so we really want them to get a trophy. And it would be good for our first season,” Sohadeseni said.

Currently, the club’s dreams seem quite auspicious, as the team recently defeated Sam Houston State University, a Division I school, on Jan. 21. “They were much bigger than us but we had our speed,” Sohadeseni said. “Our tackling started off bad, but we really picked it up after about 10 minutes. Even though it was a friendly, we all really got some good experience and learned a lot.”

After that memorable victory, the Comets made preparations for their next match, as they traveled down south to San Antonio to play against UTSA on Jan. 28. On Feb. 5, they will host SMU, a school the team considers an unofficial rival due to Coach Wagner’s tenure as SMU’s former coach. Now only time will tell if this dramatic sports plot has a happy ending.

P.S. UTD edged UT San Antonio on Jan. 28 by a score of 15 to 5 to improve to a 4-0 won-loss record.

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