This season has marked a resurgence in the Western men’s rugby program with wins coming from its sevens and 15s squads.
The 15s team defeated Washington State University 59-13 on Friday, Nov. 11, in its first league match of the season.
The Vikings also won against nationally ranked schools — California Polytechnic State University, The Air Force Academy and University of California Los Angeles — in the West Coast Collegiate Sevens tournament in San Francisco on Oct. 22.
“Our motto is ‘getting better than we were yesterday,’ and I think we’ve done a good job of that this season.”
Junior Tripp Marotto said Western’s success surprised other teams, prompting the team to ask themselves, “Who?” and then answer “Who? What? WWU!” which became the team’s rallying cry over the course of the weekend.
“We were underdogs, but we played really well,” Marotto said.
Marotto, who is president of the team, said rugby at Western turned a corner five years ago when it began taking the game more seriously.
Marotto transferred to Western for rugby after attending community college in San Francisco. When the team traveled to San Francisco for a game, 15 players stayed at his house.
“My mom’s a trooper for that one,” Marotto said.
The team played on Marotto’s former home field, where he played rugby for six years.
“Coming out there on that same field in different colors was a crazy, crazy feeling. Kind of bittersweet, but it was awesome,” he said.
Rugby is split into sevens and 15s, with seven players and 15 players on each team, respectively. Marotto said sevens rugby is more fast-paced, with more open space on the field, and big, highlight-reel-style plays.While 15s requires more team coordination, planning and successful execution.
While the sevens season is wrapping up, the 15s season started on shaky ground, Marotto said. Western played University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University on Oct. 28, but came home without a win.
“Our motto is ‘getting better than we were yesterday,’ and I think we’ve done a good job of that this season,” Marotto said.
Paul Horne, director of rugby at Western, said there are 44 players on the squad, about 65 percent of whom are relatively new to the game. The team doesn’t make any cuts, but there are two teams, one of which competes in league games.
Horne said he has noticed a change in the culture of the sport locally, with more players who played rugby in high school trying out for the team.
“The athletes that we’re getting are choosing Western,” Horne said. “We’re getting a kind of different athlete now — an experienced athlete as opposed to somebody just exploring.”
The team has several out-of-state students who came to Western because of the program, including Marotto. International students from Canada, Africa, Saudi Arabia and Dubai also occupy spots on the roster.
“We have an excellent balance of very savvy, skillful, strong veteran players and also very energetic and youthful, younger players,” Marotto said.
Looking toward the future, Marotto said he wants to take the veteran players on the team to nationals.
“I’ve seen them pour their effort, their hearts and their souls into it, and last season we kind of walked away empty-handed,” Marotto said. “People don’t know about the dedication and the amount of determination it takes to be on a rugby team or in that game.”
As the winter approaches, Marotto said the fifth or sixth week is when most of the players fall to injuries and illness.
“The last thing you want to do when you get the flu is run and get smacked around at a rainy practice,” Marotto said.