By: Alfredo Roig / Contributing Writer
Full-body tackling with no shoulder pads, funny socks and an odd-shaped ball being slung around the field… it must be rugby season.
Although rugby is widely regarded as a European sport, it is quickly making its way into the American realm of sport and recreation and has found it’s way into the FIU-MMC campus.
Former naval officer and rugby player Gabriel Puello founded the Florida International University rugby team in 1989. Like all teams, they struggled at the start to gain traction on campus and become an athletic force.
Now in 2011, however, the FIU rugby team is stronger than ever with Puello at the helms and over 20 members on their team competing against other rugby clubs throughout the nation and from overseas.
Rugby is a sport that takes many of the aspects of American football and soccer and combines them to make one tough, hard-hitting and endurance-testing game, a game that Puello believes can catch on at FIU and other campuses around the country.
“Collegiate rugby is trying to become more mainstream,” noted Puello. “It is exciting to be a part of a brand new conference that we should be very competitive in, given the fact that we restarted the team from dormancy two years ago and last year we ended the season ranked second in the state.”
The club has recently made the jump from being ranked second in Division II to becoming a part of the South Independent Rugby Conference for the spring 2012 competitive season, which is the equivalent of an NCAA team moving from Division I-AA to the Division I.
Along with this exciting new move come new expectations, new challenges and endless possibilities for Golden Panther rugby squad.
“It gives us a blank slate and that gives us the ability to create something very dynamic,” Puello added.
This team has faced hardships on and off the field by having to fund all of their own traveling, housing, and equipment expenses. This rising group of young athletes is coming into this season with high aspirations and new goals in mind as they enter a new conference with a higher level of competition.
The Golden Panthers’ rugby club, which is independently ran and not associated with FIU athletics, is coming off an impressive 5-2 season last year with victories over University of Central Florida, University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University.
The team will kickoff their exhibition season at Florida Gulf Coast University on Oct. 1 in Fort Myers, Fla. Their first official home match of the season will be against rival, Florida Atlantic University on Oct. 8 at 12:00 p.m.
The club plays its home games at the FIU-MMC Intramural Fields on the northwest corner of campus.
LIFE IN RUGBY
The life of an FIU “rugger” is no walk in the park. The team practices two times a week for nearly three hours at a time. Their practices include anything from full contact tackling drills to non-stop cardio and endurance training.
Practices usually conclude with an all out scrimmage in which the players will practice against each other.
Before joining the club two years ago, Michael Swaebe had never played rugby before in his life. Now, he is a fully dedicated member and is looking to introduce others to the game he fell in love with.
“No experience is needed to come play rugby,” Swaebe said. “We are just looking for players who want to learn the game and get better each and every practice.”
While at times it is necessary for individual players to step up and make a big play, Swaebe insists that the team is bigger than any one player and requires the contributions of many to get the job done on the field.
“While there are players who have warranted individual attention, the great thing about rugby is the opportunity for everyone to be a star player and score,” Swaebe said. “From the largest forward to the sleekest back, there is a position made for everyone. If you want the ball bad enough you’ll get it.”