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WWU men’s rugby looks to reclaim Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference

Determined to put past losses behind them, Western aims for championship season

Scenes from Western Washington University's men's rugby game against the University of Washington on Nov. 11, 2023. // Photos courtesy of Owen Wright 

The Western Washington University men’s rugby team is 5-0 to start the season. They are also 2-0 in division play after dominating wins against the University of Washington. However, the Vikings have loftier goals. 

In the previous two seasons, Western came within a game of advancing to the national tournament, losing to the University of San Diego 43-26 in 2023 and 52-15 to Fresno State the year prior. 

This season, players and coaches are determined to get over the hump, which starts with a team culture focused on accountability and winning.

“This year we have a strong base, a strong foundation. All the guys know each other, they’ve lived with each other,” said fly half Max Stone. “Our team culture has changed to keeping each other more accountable and understanding that common shared goal of winning.”

Stone said this is the best team he’s seen since he joined the rugby team in September 2021 and the 2022 loss to Fresno State has been the main motivator for the team this season.

“It shocked us. They were playing such a fast-paced and aggressive style of rugby,” Stone said. “We were unprepared to play at that level against those guys, they had a really good team.” 

Talent and expectations can be difficult to manage throughout a season, and Head Coach Paul Horne knows that.  

“Winning is not easy. We’ve got a target on our backs, everyone wants to beat Western,” Horne said. 

Being humble and focused can be hard to maintain when you have high aspirations like Western, but Horne has instilled a culture and belief in his players that has guided them this season.

“[The players] being consistent every day, being on time to practice, we’re moving in the right direction,” Horne said. Horne said there is buy-in from all his players and the team is ready for the rest of the season. 

Horne has coached Western’s men’s rugby since 2012 and he knows hard work and dedication pay off in the end.

“We used to have a saying – some people wish for it, we work for it,” Horne said. 

Western wouldn’t be in this position without improvement from players during their time on the team. Elijah Ashmann is one of those players.

“When I first started here, I had only been playing for four months. I couldn’t even pass to my right, I couldn’t pass off my left hand, it was bad,” Ashmann said. 

With improvement, Ashmann was voted to the 2022-23 American College Rugby All-American First Team, along with teammates Max Stone and Desmond Maiava. 

Ashmann said the Vikings became overconfident in previous seasons, causing their postseason runs to end shorter than expected. 

“I think we just got too big of a head last year. We usually dominate our conference,” Ashmann said. “I feel like we just had a chip on our shoulder, we thought we were gonna go in there and it was gonna be the same way, and the USD came out real hard and hot. We made way too many mistakes.” 

However, this year Ashmann believes the Vikings have the right mix of veterans and underclassmen to lead the team to a championship.

“We have a full starting 15, starting 23 of guys who are dedicated to this, in and out of the gym, and are gonna go out there and give all their effort,” Ashmann said. 

Ashmann said he believes the relationships the team has built are something special. 

“This is the closest I’ve ever been to the leaders of the team. … I see Max Stone every day,” Ashmann said. “We’re all real tight knit. There’s not anything that I don’t know going on with the other players. They can talk to me about certain things, it’s really beautiful.” 

Pressure can either burst pipes or make diamonds. For the Vikings, it’s the latter, as previous losses have sharpened the team's mentality.

“Going into the playoffs and our final league games in March, [the Fresno State game] looms large in everyone's mind, as does our nationals semi-finals defeat from last season,” Stone said. 

Western plays again on Jan. 27 against Trinity Western University at Robert S. Harrington Field. For their full schedule, see their website.

Aiden Luhr

Aiden Luhr is a junior at Western and a sports reporter for The Front. He is a journalism news/editorial major and enjoys anything sports related. You can reach him at

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