The undefeated streak of the UTD rugby club came to a halt on April 14-15, when the newly founded team experienced its first losses of the season at a tournament that would have placed them in the national championships.
Leaving on the foreboding Friday the 13th, the team began a 13-hour bus drive to Wayne, Neb., where the National Small College Rugby Organization PacWest Region Championship was hosted.
Ominous storm clouds loomed over the field on the next morning of their first game against the host school, Wayne State.
An intense first half erupted and the more experienced Wayne State team exploited every hole they could find in the UTD team’s plays.
The first half ended: Wayne State 34, UTD 0.
The first salvos of thunder echoed, as cracks of lightning etched the Nebraskan sky, causing officials to postpone the match until the weather subsided.
The match resumed an hour and a half later and while a quick surge from UTD gave the visitors a touchdown by Vince Dutton, the match ended with Wayne State winning 44 to 7.
“It was a huge disappointment,” said Jimmy Chi, MIS senior. “
This was the players’ first loss in what had been an immaculate league season.
“It wasn’t that we were a bad team
that day or anything, it was just experience,“ said Dominic Prestia, ATEC junior.
The rugby club sprung from a small group of devoted rugby players that had practiced together in 2010. Only in the 2011 fall semester did the UTD rugby club become a registered team. They went on to compete against colleges that had years of experience over them, but despite being outclassed, the underdogs became the 2012 state champions.
“Honestly, out of the 35 solid guys we have on the team, only four of us, I believe, have played before,” Prestia said. “To go that far with a bunch of guys that have never played — that was amazing.”
The match for third place took place on Sunday against the University of Puget Sound, or UPS, from Washington.
Both UTD and UPS arrived on the field with fresh scrapes and bruises from their Saturday losses, playing as though they had something to prove.
This game was evenly matched and tough for both sides.
Reminiscent of the matches against UTSA, the UPS team scored on their first two tries, giving the Puget Sound a head start for UTD to catching up to.
UTD fired back with Dutton capitalizing a penalty kick and Luke Lewis scoring a try before the second half.
UPS 10, UTD 8.
The second half commenced and Dutton — no stranger to the penalty kick — scored another one to put UTD in the lead for the first time at 11 to 10.
Despite a hard fought game, UPS walked away with the victory.
“I felt good after the game, it’s never fun losing, but I definitely didn’t feel defeated,” Prestia said.
Nathan Sohadaseni, MIS senior and team captain, said they understood that they were outclassed in terms of experience by the others teams like Wayne State, which had rugby facilities and a community that valued the sport highly.
“After winning the championship, we didn’t really mind if we were going to lose or not but we just went in with the mindset that we were going to go and do our best,” he said. “We played our hearts out and ended up having a great showing.”
Word of the UTD rugby club’s underdog story had spread to the other teams at the tournament and coaches and players from Wayne State, Puget Sound and even California Maritime Academy, who didn’t play against UTD, came to congratulate the budding team.
The players said they expect to make it to the national championships in Colorado next year, but until then, they’ll have time to revel in what has been a fairytale rugby story no one saw coming.
“We definitely put UTD rugby on the map,” Sohadaseni said.