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Sunday, Dec 4, 2022

Men’s rugby reflects on a successful season, looks forward to 50th year on campus

Men’s rugby recently wrapped up their spring campaign, marking the end of their 49th year on campus. (Courtesy of Griffin Shapiro ’22)
Men’s rugby recently wrapped up their spring campaign, marking the end of their 49th year on campus. (Courtesy of Griffin Shapiro ’22)

The Middlebury College Men’s Rugby Club (MCRC) went 11–3 this spring, falling to Bryant University in the Beast of the East tournament on April 24 while still qualifying for the national tournament. The team competes in the National Collegiate Rugby Small College’s New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU)’s South Conference. 

“[Nationals] is during graduation weekend and the travel to Houston around that just wasn't going to be possible,” MCMR President Griffin Shapiro ’22 told The Campus. 

While the team will graduate a large senior class this May, it has a strong group of underclassmen who can spark a rebound next fall. 

“The team does a great job of welcoming players to the game since almost all of us learned to play for the first time in college,” Shapiro said. “We work hard to convert all kinds of athleticism into contributions on the rugby field.”

Shapiro ran cross country and track and wrestled in high school before picking up rugby as a first-year at Middlebury. Cole Siefer ’25, a rookie on the team, added that most players come from other sports that rely on grit, such as wrestling, football and ice hockey.

“The best thing about [rugby] is that anyone can find a position on the pitch,” Co-Head Coach Kerry Wiebe said. “Our biggest challenge is creating an environment where all players will develop. We've got to be creative to develop new players and maintain the interest of experienced players while combining them to create a competitive on-field product.”

While the team had an exemplary spring season, Shapiro’s proudest moment came this fall when the team beat Holy Cross to cap off an undefeated season. 

“It was such a great team win, against the No. 1 ranked small college rugby program in the country, and so vindicating for our team that had been off the field for almost two years during Covid to come together like we did this fall,” he said. 

Next academic year, MCRC will celebrate its 50th anniversary. According to Shapiro, it offers a jumping-off point for more sustained alumni involvement that eventually helps with the club resource issues. Despite having access to a trainer, Shapiro said that in general, resources have been a major limitation to the club’s growth.

“The school had an opportunity, right…before I got here, to commit to and invest in the club and make it a powerhouse among small colleges and competitive with places like the Ivies,” Shapiro said. “They didn't, and the college rugby landscape has gotten so much more competitive and better-resourced while our club hasn't had that same opportunity to grow.”

While rugby is a club sport at Middlebury, the team holds a formal, one-week-long pre-season with practices, recovery sessions, and team building activities. “It's a great time all around,” Wiebe said.

Despite a constant stream of new faces and new rugby players, Shapiro is optimistic about the team’s future. 

“I think the team on paper has every chance to be in the conversation for a national championship,” he said.


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