SIU sets itself apart from the other 32 teams entering the USA National 7s Rugby Tournament as the only Registered Student Organization in a pool of Division 2 schools.
“Every other team has the money to give out a partial or full scholarship,” said rugby club president Daniel Lowery.
In the club’s first bout of the tournament Thursday in Las Vegas, SIU will go head-to-head with the University of Utah, the defending Division 2 national champion.
There will be three days of round robin play at Las Vegas’s Silver Bowl Sports Complex, with SIU going up against either Regis University of Colorado or Michigan’s Davenport University Friday.
SIU rugby qualified for the national tournament last year with a first-place finish at the Midwest Collegiate Rugby Showcase in Wisconsin.
“We can’t go to Nevada anticipating a loss,” said Sam Pellegrino, senior rugby player. “We made it to playoffs last season for the first time in 15 years, we have a lot of returning seniors, and we’re ready to get out there and compete.”
Although Division 2 rugby teams consist of seven players, eight players less than Division 1 schools, Division 2 consists of some Ivy League schools.
“Teams like UCLA, Yale, Stanford and Brown all compete on the same stage with SIU,” Lowery said. “We have just as good of a chance to walk away national champions as any of them do.”
Ben Cybulsky, former club president, said the team’s focus seems to be in the right place despite excitement for a trip to Las Vegas.
“We’re going to this tournament to win,” Cybulsky said. “After we do the absolute best we can all three days, we have the rest of the weekend to hang out in Vegas before coming back to southern Illinois for school on Monday.”