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The Indiana University of Pennsylvania men’s rugby club team will host Villanova University in the first round of the NCAA Division II Championships Saturday at 1 p.m.
The team was guaranteed the home playoff game by defeating East Stroudsburg University 36-7 last weekend.
“It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win, and we’re going to the playoffs,” said club President Bryan Castrogiovanni (senior, mathematics).
That win capped off an impressive season for the Tooters, who are competing in a new conference this season, the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference.
The team finished in second place with a 6-1 record, with three of those victories coming against three top-six clubs in the 14-team conference.
The team’s only loss was to the best squad in the conference, undefeated Notre Dame College (Ohio).
The team was the distinctive runner-up to NDC in the conference, as the Tooters finished second to them in all but one of the major categories.
They were second in points with 340, tries (similar to football touchdowns) with 54 and PTS (how teams are ranked: earned through wins and tries) with 37. They were fourth in points allowed with 136.
Keep in mind that not only is this IUP’s first year as part of the MARC, the team is also fielding nine new starters in the 15-man lineup.
Team captain Brock Larson (senior, marketing) described himself as “pretty shocked” over how well the club has played.
“We knew it was going to be tough losing all of those starters [from last year],” Larson said.
“But the team came together and worked, and it’s paying off.”
Additionally, the team is forced to deal with the regular absence of their coaches, head coach James “Chip” Lenzi and assistant Stevie “Hanie” Hunt, who have to travel more than an hour each way just to reach IUP for practices.
“[They’re] from Pittsburgh, so it’s hard for them to be around all of the time,” Larson said.
While all of the players have stepped up their games, Larson did point out a few select players whose performances have proved to be integral to the team’s success.
“Harry Perry (junior, sports administration) and Charles Walak (junior, exercise science) are playing really well,” Larson said. “They lead the team in scoring.”
Other players that Larson praised are fellow team captain Matt “Hotrod” Baxter (junior, accounting) and second-year flanker Timothy Sowa (sophomore, social studies education).
Sowa is one of nine new starters for the Tooters squad this season.
“It was an awesome feeling knowing that I would see the field,” Sowa said.
Sowa called his play up to this point “solid.” He said he hopes he can maintain his performance throughout the playoffs.
They will need to continue to win if they want to carry their momentum as far as last year’s squad did.
The Tooters defeated Providence and Colgate before losing to Minnesota- Duluth University in the Final Four of the Great Lakes Conference last season, one game shy of the men’s Division II Championship game.
IUP will face stiff competition in Villanova, who has a 5-2 record.
The game will take place on the Men’s Rugby Field on the south campus of IUP, at 137 University Drive.
The field is in close proximity to the baseball and soccer fields.