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South Carolina Announces Incoming Freshmen

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South Carolina Announces Incoming Freshmen

The University of South Carolina rugby team has announced its incoming freshman class.

The Gamecocks program recently announced the creation of a Men's Rugby Endowment Fund, in conjunction with the Carolina Rugby Foundation. Thanks to a donation from the Smolka Family, the fund has $50,000, and hopes to grow, while interest will be used by the team to support operations.

The USC team announced 23 players who are expected to play for the rugby team this coming fall. The vast majority are from South Carolina and Maryland, although Thomas Holt is on an exchange from the University of Queensland in Australia. Three of the players listed did not play rugby in high school.

“We lost a great group of seniors this past semester who certainly left their mark on the program in returning us to national prominence,” said head coach Mark Morris. “Every new class brings with it its own personality and challenges, which we as a coaching staff have to compensate for and do our best to integrate into our existing game plan. I’m happy to say that I have met with or have been in contact with a majority of the incoming players and their families and I know they are committed to the program and are ready to make the transition to the collegiate level.”

The incoming class of 23 hail from eight different states, mostly in the eastern United States, and one foreign country, Australia. Following those from the home state of South Carolina, the largest contingent of players will be coming from Maryland and Philadelphia, continuing a pattern established three years ago which has amounted to 40% of the team now being from the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. “I credit the demographic shift to the competitive level of youth rugby being played in those regions,” says Coach Morris. “It’s great to work with coaches like Lee Kelly from Gonzaga and Scott Brown from Rugby Pennsylvania and learn that interest in our program continues to build and that high-caliber athletes want to compete at South Carolina. In the mix we have MVP’s, team captains, star athletes in their respective positions, and state and national champions. It’s our job as a coaching staff to channel these individual talents and to put the best possible product on the pitch.”

One unique characteristic is that the players cover nearly every position on the field, something that Morris is happy about. “Normally, you have to deal with an influx of mostly forwards or mostly backs, so this is good to have, especially when I have openings throughout the roster.”

With the incoming players, combined with returning players and a number of walk-ons, the team should expect around 70 players the first few weeks before things being to settle.

“Coach Darnell and I keep a very fluid roster,” added Morris. “There is no guarantee from one week to the next who will start where or on which side.
It’s important that we create the opportunity for advancement if we are to expect our players to improve and diversify their talents. If there’s one thing the incoming players will learn, it’s not to get content. Every week is a new slate.”

The incoming class as a whole also boasts an impressive academic resume with an average GPA of more than 3.5. “The University has certainly elevated their academic standards in the last ten years when it comes to the admissions’ selection process, attracting some of the best minds from across the country,” said Morris. “We have already seen this in recent years with outgoing players Matthew Augustine and David Mysona each receiving USA Rugby Academic All-American honors for their dedication in the classroom. I have a feeling that players who compete full time while also enrolled in research studies, academic fraternities, and the University’s nationally recognized Honors College will become the norm in the next 5-10 years, which will only benefit the program as a whole. We already have a number of players, past and present, that fall into this category which has helped the team achieve a cumulative GPA of 3.2, exceeding that of the overall undergraduate student body.”

The Men's Rugby Team is USC's winningest program, and won the Southeastern Rugby Conference Championship, advancing to national quarterfinals.

Not only were eight of USC’s student athletes 1st Team SCRC All-Conference players, senior Captain Matthew Berenato received USA Rugby All-American Honorable Mention honors for his stellar performance guiding the South Carolina backline as a ferocious runner and try scorer. Overall, the Gamecocks had a great Fall and Spring campaign, competing in two USA Rugby National Championships and the CRC 7s Invitational on NBC.

“Our recent successes have presented us with a unique opportunity to compete against the nation’s best and to challenge ourselves above and beyond our normal play,” added Coach Morris. “We have learned a great deal these past few years and have grown immensely as a program, though, as always, there is still much to improve on and we’ll be looking to this incoming class to continue to drive the program forward and to raise the bar in what we can accomplish.”