Last weekend Chicago played host to the annual rugby All-Star tournament for the Midwest. Wisconsin, which is perennially seen as the powerhouse of the tournament, was one of just eight teams that participated in the tournament hosted by the Local Area Union (LAU). This year Marquette was well represented in the tournament, sending four players to the All-Star tournament which tied for most amongst any college in Wisconsin.
The four players represent the depth of Marquette’s club team. Seniors Adam Kreutter, Austin Ryan, Kevin Ryan and Vince Kelly each played for the Wisconsin All-Star team with most of them having earned multiple selections. Austin and Adam were selected for their third consecutive selection while Kevin earned his second selection. This is especially impressive considering that just four years ago Marquette’s club team did not have anyone represent the Golden Eagles in Chicago.
The tournament is broken down into two tiers each containing four teams. The first tier is comprised of the top four teams from the Midwest as determined from the previous year’s tournament, with the second tier containing the remaining four teams. The winner of the first tier is deemed champion of the Midwest while the loser of both games is forced to swap places with the victor of the second tier.
Wisconsin entered this year’s tournament as the reigning champion, and found itself sitting pretty with a number one seed. Wisconsin’s dominance has been so prevalent that it has assumed a dynasty-esque appearance over the past decade so expectations were high for this year’s team. Combine that with the fact that Marquette’s four reps were seniors, it isn’t hard to see how bad they wanted to win another championship. Wisconsin has proved their run as a dynasty by winning four of the past five Midwest All-Star tournaments and this year showed no reason why they should not repeat.
Wisconsin opened their weekend slate Saturday afternoon against arch-rival Minnesota and looked to score an early win from a hated opponent. Unfortunately, after a tough fought out game Wisconsin fell 25-17 in a heart wrenching loss. After a big team dinner and plenty of sleep, the Wisconsin all-stars followed on Sunday and pounded Iowa 29-0 in a game that was never close. Kreutter summed up the feeling saying, “Before this year we had won four of five, so definitely we wanted to defend our title, we just weren’t able to.”
Next year’s all-star team will go down as the number three seed and once again will be faced to match up with the second seeded Minnesota once again which fell in the championship to Ohio. Since Iowa was unable to score a victory they will be sent to the second tier and forced to play their way back to the top tier.
Although all fours reps from Marquette were seniors, it has not lowered expectations for more players being invited by the Wisconsin team in the coming years. When asked whether Marquette is expected to send anyone next year, the assistant captain, Austin Ryan simply replied, “Definitely! We had thirteen guys tryout this year and almost all of them could easily be on the team next year.”
Kreutter, a senior in the College of Engineering, completely agreed saying that, “Marquette’s team is filled with all-star caliber talent and the fact that four of us made the team shows the depth of the entire team not just the individual players.”
Although MU’s involvement in the tournament is extraordinary, each of the players noted the importance of moving past simply a Marquette affiliation and identifying themselves as the Wisconsin team. Ryan claimed that it was actually one of the best parts of the tournament, because “the ability to build camaraderie across the state and allows us to compete with others across the Midwest that take rugby seriously.”
The ability to play alongside some of the best players in the state, not to mention the Midwest, means that rivalries with other schools are temporarily forgotten in favor of the ability to represent this great state. Kreutter remembered a specific instance about which he said “I really could not stand this one guy from Wisconsin-Whitewater whenever we played them, but once I played with him my opinion quickly changed and we became great teammates.”
The importance of cohesion is shared by Ryan who lamented that “At this tournament, individuals do not win games, which was why we lost our first game. A lack of team cohesion is one of the biggest weaknesses a team can have.
Wisconsin is a team that specifically focuses on team cohesion, making the loss due to individualistic play that much harder to swallow. After they trimmed down the original 70 Wisconsin all-star hopefuls to the final 25, they have two scrimmages that focus largely on cohesion. This cohesion has proved invaluable for the players under the system as many have their play elevated to a whole new level. Two-time all-star Kevin Ryan recalled what his first selection did for his game saying, “After playing at a higher level, it gives a perspective of where you are, and allows you to elevate your own expectations. This improvement is hard to see at a local level.”
The exposure to some of the best talent is also the direct result of the ability to play under some of the best coaches in the Midwest. The rugby players’ performance also provides a great opportunity to showcase their skills allowing them potentially to play for the Midwest team. Austin Ryan performance warranted an invite to the Midwest Developmental game a great accomplishment. The depth of Wisconsin has been continually proven by past players as over the past 5 years; three guys have gone on to play for the All-American team.
Regardless of the outcome in Chicago, all four players agreed that it was an incredible experience. Hopefully
the recent past will prove true next year as Marquette hopes to once again send more players to represent Wisconsin in the 2011 All-Star game.
by Joe Beres
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