Undefeated, Midwest regional champions, No. 1 ranking in Division II (rugbymag.com). The UW-Whitewater men’s club rugby team reached all of these milestones during its fall season.
This spring, the team has a chance to become national champions.
The Warhawks head to San Diego to take on California State Fullerton University at 2 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the Division II national tournament.
The championship bracket has 16 of the best teams in the country, but only four will make the trip to Pittsburgh for a chance to be crowned champions.
The Final Four is April 30.
The ’Hawks have not had much time to prepare for the Titans but are still confident.
“We don’t know a lot about Cal State, but we gave ourselves a tough road in the fall to prepare for this,” club president Will Atkinson said. “Being No. 1 is great, but it’s nationals and no one is going to be impressed by our ranking. We just need to come out with intensity and take over the game early.”
California State had its main season this spring, while UW-Whitewater’s was last fall. As a result, the Titans have played more rugby than the ’Hawks the last few months.
“The key to our success has been the commitment of our players. Whether it’s at practice, in the weight room, or networking and fundraising to support our team,” Atkinson said. “Because some of our guys have stuck around and really embraced the game, we have been able to play at such a high level.”
In the fall, the ’Hawks were giants.
The team knocked off every Division I program it faced, including Michigan State University and the University of Iowa, on its way to winning its second straight Midwest Regional Championship.
In the spring, the team played exhibition matches against Truman State and Northern Illinois University.
Last week, the ’Hawks blew out UW-Stout, 42-0, and No. 14 UW-Madison, 34-13. UW-Stout was the only Division II program of the four.
The last time the battle-tested ’Hawks lost a match was in the first round of nationals last year to UM-Amherst, 34-21.
Atkinson made it clear the team’s trip to California is not a vacation. They have business to accomplish.
“Anything short of a title will be disappointing,”Atkinson said. “We put in all the hard work, and this is the realization of our goals. We have done a great job representing the university, but this is for us. Words couldn’t express what winning that title would mean to our team.”