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Razorbacks Tough it Out

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Razorbacks Tough it Out

"We are actually friends," says John Osmun, back row, second from left. "We hang out together."

It would be fair to say that the University of Arkansas came out of nowhere.

Yes, we at Goff Rugby Report mentioned them as a team to watch some months ago, but very few expected the Razorbacks to make the top four in DIAA, which they did in upsetting Long Beach State in the playoffs, and while Arkansas finished in the Bowl Consolation bracket, it’s worth noting that two of their three losses came by three points and two points, respectively, and they also beat Central Florida and Cal Poly. Only eventual champions Lindenwood beat them by any decent margin.

For the Razorbacks, then, 2014-15 was a season of exceeding expectations. They unleashed a played with serious 7s ability in Corey Jones, and didn’t back down from anyone.

“We were told from the beginning of the season that no one knows who we are, and people are going to come in and expect to demolish us,” said John Osmun. “If we were going to be great we had to come in with a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to let people know, hey, we’re here to play ball!”

“Two things really helped us come together,” said freshman Alex Rees, who played four years for the top-ranked Westlake HS program in Texas. “One was really, really good leadership with our club president and paperwork and all of the stuff that can bog things down, and secondly, what really made us come together was we started hanging out as a team together and not getting on each other for messing up. People started trusting each other.”

The club president would be Cameron Probst, who worked tirelessly as organizer, leader, and team spokesman. And it wasn’t easy. In 15s, Arkansas got by undefeated Kansas State 29-20, and then had to battle previous champions Missouri in a game that ended in a 24-24 tie. Missouri had already lost to K-State, by a point, and so Arkansas basically sealed the conference title with that draw.

But still few gave them a chance outside of the region, and the players knew that.

“Every match in the conference was uniquely tough in its own way,” said Osmun. “Each team has dangers. But our team, we started with great leadership and that literally trickled down into the rest of the season.”

“We know the Heart of America teams aren’t chumps,” added Rees. “Missouri did really well last year. And we It was the tough games in the HOA that gave us the confidence so that when we went down 11-0 to Long Beach we still believed in ourselves and came back from that.”

So a top four finish in 15s in DIAA, and then a trip to nationals in 7s. They weren’t sure they could afford it all, but, said Osmun, “once we qualified, we were like “Hey! Let’s do it!”

It wasn’t easy because Arkansas rugby is a true club sport overseen by the campus recreation department. They run into the types of problems other club rugby teams do when those in charge don’t understand that varsity letter or no varsity letter, the rugby team is playing intercollegiate games, and isn’t the same as the inner-tube water polo league.

And while this attitude can usually be measured in dollars, it’s not usually money that causes problems for these clubs - it’s access to vans; the ability to get sponsorship to pay for what the school won’t pay for; it’s access fields - the University of Alabama team being cited for practicing at the wrong time because a couple of students were tossing a rugby ball around during free time, when a soccer ball or Frisbee would yield no such ire.

“Our classmates love us,” said Osmun. “Everyone at the University loves the rugby team, except for the University. We have been shedding good light on the University. This year is the second time we qualified for nationals in 7s, and we made the top four in 15s. And the school actually tried to make it harder on us to get to Denver.”

Well, somebody appreciates it. The University of Arkansas students’ rugby team is a classic case of a University forgetting who is paying the bills (the students who are paying full tuition), and missing the fact that the team did exactly what universities want their students to do - dedicated themselves to a cause, worked hard to achieve it, and exceeded expectations despite obstacles.