Before the sun comes up, before attending classes or heading to work, members of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln men’s rugby team practice four times per week. Their determination doesn’t stop there as they practice two more evenings per week and attend games and tournaments during their three-month long season. Their hard work has earned them a berth in the national tournament.
As the past two years offered fewer opportunities for meeting people, trying new things and developing a sense of belonging, members of the rugby team embraced practices as time to connect with friends, decompress and work toward their common goal of advancing their team one match at a time. On top of the challenges presented by COVID, the team was shaken by the unfortunate loss of a teammate.
“The last two seasons have been rough,” Brennan Palmer, the club’s president, said. “It really means a whole lot to this team and to the coaches. This was the first sevens season for some guys that are already juniors.”
However, the skills on the field are not all the players take away. If you ask head coach Niko Waqalaivi, it’s about more than the game.
“It’s about building relationships that will last a lifetime and trying to make an impact on players’ lives,” he said.
“This team has given me a home away from home and a group of friends that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” Palmer said. “All the coaches really want us to excel on the field, but they also want to teach us how to be successful in life too.”
That sense of brotherhood translated to gritty practice sessions and not only a closeness to current rugby team members, but also to others who have been a part of the club in the past.
“It helps when we have the great support of everyone at Campus Recreation and we also couldn’t do it without the Nebraska Rugby Alumni Foundation, so a huge thank you to everyone involved,” Palmer said.
At season’s end, the team earned an automatic qualifying bid out of the Heart of America Collegiate Conference to compete at the national tournament at Kennesaw State in Georgia, May 14-15. This is the second time the team has qualified, previously earning an at-large bid in 2019.
Although it has been a successful season overall, Palmer is quick to point out that the team’s highest goal is still not met. They remain fixated on bringing home a national championship.
Men’s Rugby joins other club teams this academic year who’ve excelled at the national level:
- In December, the Cycling Club’s Abbey O’Brien and Dillon McNeill led their team to earn the Cyclocross Omnium National Championship, the highest combined scores between the men’s, women’s and relay competition.
- In March, the Men’s Hockey Club earned their first win at nationals in St. Louis, Missouri (finishing 1-1-1).
- In April, the Women’s Volleyball Club competed and finished in fifth place competed at nationals in Phoenix, Arizona.
- Most recently, the broomball team won the 2022 National Collegiate Championship.