Lindenwood University kind of made it official; you can create a national champion out of nothing if you have the right resources and the right status on campus.
It’s not a new concept – caches in college rugby have said for years that the bar was low. While celebrating the students who also represented their school on rugby clubs, observers knew programs could be more, if they became programs, not just teams.
Lindenwood University recognized that the growth of rugby in high school provided a new interested group their school could attract. And then you get a good coach, and a smart plan, and you can build a team, even in one year.
“The school is obviously very proud,” said Head Coach Ron Laczewski of Lindenwood’s DII national title earned Saturday. “The program rose up out of the ashes. The school understands how to run a professional program. I have coached call me and ask how we did it. I say, in the short version, that you have to approach them and let them know that high school rugby is going through the roof and there’s a market you might want to capitalize on. It’s all about admissions.”
Lindenwood admitted some talented players, including several from top high school programs in the USA, as well as international students from Zimbabwe, England, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Azerbaijan, and Macedonia.
Laczewski’s not inconsequential task was to make them a team, a unit.
“I see some athletes over here such as Trevor Locke, Tyler Black, and Nick Markowski, who’d never played scrumhalf before this year, and can say that they could easily go anywhere in the world with rugby because they are learning new skills,” said Lindenwood flyhalf Brendan Davis, a 6-0, 220 flyhalf from Australia who anchored the Lindenwood team. “Ron does a great job in not slowing anything down for anyone. You don’t go back to square one; you’ll pick it up at square four. We knew as a team, the only way we were going to get here was together. We knew going into this that if we play 100%, we can beat anyone out there.
“On the day our boys showed the heart. All those early mornings we’re up lifting weights, training five days a week,” Davis added. “People like Trevor and Joe Shirley set the tone and they ignite the spark inside the boys you see the twinkle in their eyes. We all live within shouting distance of each other on campus. We’re there at 6AM seeing each other struggle. We’re there when our hooker, Cody Schwahn, dislocated his elbow, and now he’s back helping us win a national championship. You want to play for them, go harder and further, for them.”
Laczewski wanted his team to play at a higher level from the beginning, but wasn’t sure what kind of team he could assemble when he had to declare a division. It’s clear his team is moving up, likely to D1-AA, and that’s an understandable move considering 16 of his roster, several of them starters, are freshmen.
But freshmen or not, local players or not, Laczewski said the team’s the thing.
“Everyone wanted to learn, everyone wanted to work hard,” said Laczewski. “The people I want to thank for this are the parents, because they raised their kids right.”