Rugby team scrums to playoffs

Coming off a successful year, the UNA rugby team is heading to the playoffs.

The Lions, who finished the regular season 11-2, play their first playoff game against Louisiana State University at Alexandria March 12. A win over the Generals would put the team in position to play its next game in Atlanta, Georgia, March 19.

The playoff format is single elimination, meaning a loss at any juncture would end the season. If the Lions advance past the round in Atlanta, which consists of two games, they will advance to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the quarterfinals.

If the team wins in Charlotte, it advances to Glendale, Colorado, for the National Small College Rugby Organization Final Four April 30. Many claim the city of Glendale is “Rugbytown USA,” for its top-notch facilities.

The team believes this year could potentially bring a championship, said junior Darnell Dothard.

“I feel like when we play our best game, we can win every single time,” Dothard said. “From what I heard, our first game will be a great matchup. It should be neck and neck. I think it will be an intense game.”

The biggest part of UNA’s success this season is its stifling defense, which has given opponents trouble all season long, said assistant coach Grant Cavin.

“We have played tough and physical defense all season, not allowing more than 20 points a game,” Cavin said.

The Lions closed the season with a dominant victory over UT-Chattanooga, winning the game 52-19 at Veterans Park Feb. 27.

The Lions finished undefeated at their home field, Veterans Park, an off-campus venue. UNA’s two losses this season both happened away from home.

Tennessee Tech and Lee University each defeated UNA on the road, but the Lions evened each series with a win against each team at home.

Cavin said playing on the road in the playoffs should not be an issue for the team.

“We are getting down there a day early, so not being in a car for four hours before the game should help us out there.” Cavin said.

Aside from defensive play, the team’s strong suit this season is its trucking ability, which should be a factor against LSU-Alexandria, said senior Eli Phillips.

“If we come in and play our game, which is fast and physical rugby, we can run over them,” Phillips said. “They might have more experience than us, but they haven’t played a team that is as big as we are.”

Dothard said he believes the team’s growth in retaining most of its players and adding new members makes it a team to remember for years to come.

“I think this is the best teams assembled at UNA,” he said. “With us, we have great team chemistry and have known each other for two or three years. We are just as close on the field as we are off the field.”