The Wisconsin Rugby Club knew going into this season that bouncing back from winning a national title wouldn’t be easy.
Players retire, and often, when a team makes a run for a title, some players on the bubble might see their playing time, and their enthusiasm, reduce. Add to that a chance in coaching, with former Head Coach Joe Lippert moving to Seattle, and you’ve got a recipe for a downturn.
But that hasn’t happened. Wisconsin is 3-0, and a dominant 3-0 at that, in Midwest-West play, and ride into Chicago to take on the South Side Irish with plenty of confidence.
Much of the reason for all that comes down to new Head Coach Adam Thimmig. He coached the team’s lower-division side, and Thimmig’s approach to the season was, said club president Max Zukowski, “exactly what we needed.”
The Wisconsin team was so deep, said Zukowski, that at the national final four, six players made the trip to Glendale only to find out they wouldn’t play. Many players might be disillusioned by that turn of events, but Thimmig told all of those players over the summer that retirements and reduced playing time for older players would open a window of opportunity.
The club, he said, needed them.
“Adam did a great job of keeping those players engaged,” said Zukowski. “And for me, being a guy who was a starter who stepped back a bit from playing, to see these guys play has been awesome.”
Wisconsin has only a couple of starters completely new to the club, but many starters who were struggling for playing time four months ago.
“We know clubs cycle through, but we’ve been able to keep the next wave going, and it’s been great,” said Zukowski.
In addition, Wisconsin has formed a partnership with the Madison Minotaurs. The Minotaurs compete in the International Gay Rugby Association & Board (IGRAB) competitions, but in the fall, combine with the Wisconsin club to field a DIV team. The partnership provides both organizations with playing opportunities in the fall, and in fact some of the Minotaurs are finding that they are being recruited to the DII Wisconsin team thanks to their play.
Still some things stay the same, and that’s a good thing. Former USA age-grader and University if Wisconsin captain Andrew Hanske remains a huge part of the Wisconsin attack. He gets the team going forward, and often over the line. But behind him, he needs a supporting cast, and, amazingly, Wisconsin has that despite a bit of turnover during the summer.
Wisconsin leads the Midwest-West, but they are not alone, as the Eastside Banshees have been pretty good, too. Both are 3-0, although the Banshees have recorded a victory by a single points (29-28 over St. Paul), and by two (34-32 over South Side Irish).
Favored to win over Metropolis this weekend, Eastside could well face Wisconsin on September 28 when both are 4-0.
This weekend’s Midwest-West DII club games:
Lincoln Park @ Chicago Blaze
Eastside Banshees @ Metropolis
Wisconsin @ South Side Irish
Bremer County @ St. Paul
Some highlights from Wisconsin this season so far