Yannis Shafi
Mercury Staff

Comets headed back to Lone Star Conference playoffs after 7-0 season that included three shutouts

The men’s rugby team qualified for the playoffs after going undefeated in the regular season for the fourth time in seven years.

The Comets dominated their opponents throughout the season, winning by margins ranging from 41 points against LeTourneau to 101 against Southern Methodist University. The Comets have been well balanced on both sides of the ball.

On offense, they have scored at least 50 points in each of the seven games they played. Defensively, the team gave up a total of 32 points this season, and limited three teams to 0 points. Caleb Yale, a junior 8-man, attributes the team’s success to coaching, stronger practices and game-planning strategies.

“Our coaching has helped a lot,” he said. “They’ve brought some new fresh ideas and stuff to practice, which has helped change our game plan.”

Head coach Tony Wagner utilized his prior experiences as both a player and a coach to consistently establish UTD as a premier rugby school. With recruitment numbers steadily growing for the team, the Comets are now considered a Division II school when participating in playoff tournaments.

“The competition was good, but we were just a little bit better,” Wagner said. “The guys have really stepped up and played very well to get us to where we are right now.”

As a result of the growing numbers, the Comets are classified as a Tier One team, meaning they are matched up against Division II schools in the tournament. Edmund Miller, a junior 8-man, is one of the members assisting with persuading freshmen and sophomores to join the team.

“I remember one game freshman year when we had 16 people to go down to Austin with,” Miller said. “Now you actually have to try out to make the squad for the week, and it stepped up our seriousness in that aspect.”

Wagner said the victory against the SMU Mustangs meant the most to him. He assisted the SMU team from 2001 until 2009, when he led them to two third-place victories in the Texas Rugby Union Division II Championships. When he came to UTD, he sought to beat his old school, and did so in a 101-0 rout.

“My goal was to turn the ship around and beat SMU as badly or worse,” Wagner said. “To beat them 101 to nothing was really huge.”

The Comets compete in the playoff tournament on Feb. 24 and 25 at Angelo State University. With about a month to prepare, they look to make a deep run and come home with the championship trophy.

“We’re not very big, so we can’t go toe-to-toe with (the other teams), but we have to beat them with our smarts and our quickness,” Wagner said. “Every year can be different, so it’s going to be interesting to see how we do.”