Rugby enters spring season with postseason hopes

North Alabama rugby player Trevor Brooks pitches the ball back to a teammate in the Lions’ season-opening victory against Vanderbilt at Veterans Park. The Lions went 6-1-1 during the fall portion of their season, and must win all three of their scheduled spring games to be eligible for playoffs

The North Alabama rugby club enters the spring season with optimism of a playoff birth. The Lions finished the fall season with a 6-1-1 record, including a season-opening victory over Vanderbilt at Veterans Park.

The team’s one loss against conference rival Lee could derail the Lion’s hopes of making the playoffs, as only one team from each conference will be selected for post-season play.

The Lions have three games scheduled for the spring season and must win out to be eligible for playoffs in their division.

“This season has gone great,” said head coach Eddie Roberts. “We had some injuries toward the end of the season, but we are healthy now after the long fall break.”

UNA hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga Feb. 4 followed by its regular season home finale versus Lee Feb. 11. The team closes out with a road trip to Tennessee Tech Feb. 25.

Senior Trevor Brooks said the loss to Lee was bitterer to swallow because of the ending.

“We started off the season good and strong,” Brooks said. “The loss against Lee hurt because it came on the final seconds of play.”

Roberts said the mix between senior leaders and newcomers has been a major factor in the club’s success this season.

“We have a great group of freshmen on the team,” he said “In the last game in the fall versus UTC, we played six different first-year guys. Seniors like Eli Phillips and Trevor Brooks have stepped up and led this team.”

Phillips said the youth on the club will make UNA a threat for years to come.

“We’re young, but we’re strong,” he said. “The new guys are really quick learners. It’s easy to teach the new guys when they come in if they’re willing. You can tell when they’re eager to play coming straight out of high school because some of them didn’t get offered to play football.”

UNA has had to adjust without former All-American Matthew “H.P.” Moore. Moore signed to play professional rugby this season with the Austin Huns in Austin, Texas.

Roberts said adapting without Moore has been surprisingly easy.

“Guys stepped right up both as leaders and athletes,” he said. “People forget sometimes that (Phillips) is also an All-American, so that’s made the transition easier.”

Roberts said the ongoing support for the UNA rugby club from the university has been one of the biggest reasons the team has had success over the past few seasons.

“Without the support of (Director of Recreational Sports) Jim Eubanks, none of this would be possible,” he said.