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Why Gateway Champs Drury Won't Progress Further

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Why Gateway Champs Drury Won't Progress Further

Drury vs Southern Illinois last weekend. Todd Lunow photo.

Despite the laudable efforts by many in college rugby, especially NCR this past year or so, to define who belongs in what division, there are always gray areas.

And sometimes college teams fall into those gray areas. There are teams that qualify as small college in size that are in NCR's D1. There are teams in large schools that are in D2. Sometimes, the enrollment limits NCR puts out don't work for a team.

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But for the most part, the hard-and-fast rules make sense. But questions do remain on where some teams fit in it all. Take Drury University. A small university with a total undergraduate enrollment of under 1,400, Drury would normally compete in NCR's Small College or D2. But since Drury is school-supported, they have to be D1. But what D1 conference? There really aren't conferences near the Missouri-based school. So what Drury has done is play in the Gateway Conference with a bunch of D2 teams. That's what Principia did in 2022, but of course the rules on who should be in what conference weren't in place then and Principia played in the D2 playoffs and won.

In Drury's case, the Panthers just won the Gateway Conference playoffs, beating St. Louis University 23-0 in the final. They did that with really only have 16 players consistently available to play. This is Drury's first competitive 15s season and Head Coach Bryan Bevel has been slowly building the roster. They could only suit up 16 players in the Gateway semifinal, where they beat Southern Illinois, and in Sunday's final they had 15 players available.

Despite a red card at 16 minutes into the second half and a yellow card two minutes later they managed to keep SLU scoreless.

"You would have to say it was a complete team effort to get the victories this weekend," said Bevel. "We've been luck; we've been really lucky. We have not had an injury, not a stitch needed, and we've made it through the season."

Almost all the Drury players have played every minute of their eight games, going 7-1, with the only loss to Southern Nazarene.

Flanker Coleman Ebisch has been a defensive leader for this team while flyhalf Drake Poth runs the attack with precision.

But this could be the end of the season for Drury. And really it should be—they don't have the bench to handle the D1 playoffs, and they aren't eligible for the D2 playoffs because they're a school team.

Add to that the fact there NCR's D1 playoffs have a spot open for an at-large in a play-in that probably would go to Southern Nazarene or Drury, and SNU beat them 46-3.

But it's not really about this season; it's about the next, and the one after that.

"This is our first competitive season of 15s and we are still a work in progress on our numbers," said Bevel. "Geographically the Gateway Conference makes perfect sense, but we haven't made any concrete decisions. We will continue to train and look for opportunities to gain experience on the pitch, play a very robust 7s season, and look forward to some very keen matches. We have the men ready for those challenges."

In what conference will those challenges be met? It's hard to say—the geography of the United States strikes again. But as more colleges embrace rugby as a school-supported sport, we will see more of this—gone are the days that teams could test the waters in D2, win a championship (or come close) and then move up. Instead they are going to have to become creative in their fledgling years.