In the first week of June, Taylor’s rugby team represented the university at the Collegiate Rugby Championship in New Orleans, Louisiana.
After most Trojans had returned home for the summer, Taylor Rugby undertook the biggest challenge in their club’s history as they faced off against five top teams from across the country.
The journey to nationals didn’t happen overnight. Regular season games against other colleges in the area served as the first test for the team last year, including matches against Hillsdale and Wabash.
“We beat Wabash twice last season, and that’s when we knew things were really coming together,” said senior Jonathan Taylor.
After a 7-0 regular season in the Indiana Rugby Union, Taylor had to send in their record history from the previous three seasons in order to gain admission to the national tournament.
“We don’t get the benefits of an official sport here,” said Nicholas Kerton-Johnson, the coach of the team and Associate Professor of Political Science & International Relations. “There are no scholarships, no fancy kits. All of us are out here for the love of the game. Nationals were only possible because of the desire the team showed to keep going.”
Following five tough games in New Orleans, Taylor finished their first national appearance with two wins and three losses. Several close games didn’t go their way, but the Trojans had reason to be proud.
“We played against fully funded programs and gave them a good fight,” said Kerton-Johnson. “We should’ve won a couple of the games that we lost, but we can hold our heads high because of how we played.”
When Kerton-Johnson first came to Taylor over a decade ago, there was no organized rugby program.
“It started as a social thing really,” Kerton-Johnson said. “We came out and played once or twice a week. We had about 50 guys and 25 girls.”
What began as a casual way to play sports and have fun has evolved every subsequent year. With two seasons each year, regular practices and an official coach, Taylor Rugby has transformed itself into a respectable, dominant program.
The team has also grown in the community, as it is a partner to the local outreach ministry, Carpenter’s Hands. Rugby team members support local families and organizations through shed and wheelchair ramp construction, as well as working in home construction.
With such great momentum, the team and coach alike are looking to the future.
“We would love to become an official (Taylor) sport someday,” said Taylor. “We’ve been able to take a lot of steps toward recognition.”
As rugby continues to grow in high schools across the state, the sport is gaining a lot more attention. Professional leagues have formed in the United States recently, including Major League Rugby. This summer, rugby was even part of the Olympic games, another avenue for continued attention and growth of the game.
“We’ve had several players get looked at by professional teams and big universities,” said Kerton-Johnson, “Even at a school as small as Taylor, there are opportunities to stand out and progress.”
The rugby team is open to new recruits anytime, with their numbers currently sitting around 15 members.
“I need a few more big guys if we want to play 15s,” said Kerton-Johnson.
With the current trajectory of the club, the Taylor community should take notice of the rugby team now. Exciting things are happening across the road. Follow the Echo to hear more about the Rugby team.