Members of the Drexel rugby team hold the trophy they won in the Philadelphia showcase of the Collegiate Rugby Championship May 30–31.
Over the past six months, Drexel’s club rugby team has had one goal in mind: come out of Collegiate Rugby Championship weekend victorious.
“Nothing was going to stand in our way,” said center and team captain Cody Bukowski.
On the last day of May, the Dragons did just that, winning the City 4 showcase tournament and qualifying for next year’s Collegiate Rugby Championship top tournament.
“This is a huge deal for Drexel as a university and us as a team,” said Ian Wright, the team’s president who plays hooker and fly-half. “Over the last few years, we have been tirelessly working to put Drexel on the map as a rugby school and the Collegiate Rugby Championship is the exact way to do it.”
Twice, earlier this year, Drexel played in City 6 tournaments against Temple, St. Joseph’s, Penn, Villanova and La Salle. The Dragons won the first tournament and, since rugby is such a punishing sport, rested their starters in the second tournament and devoted themselves to scouting.
“I think, at this point, all the Philly teams are heated rivals,” Bukowski said. “It’s always a little sweeter to beat them.”
During those tournaments, Drexel’s players and coaches identified Villanova as a particular team to beat.
Drexel players on the video board during the La Salle game May 30.
With the Collegiate Rugby Championship hosted at PPL Park in Chester (the stadium where the Philadelphia Union play their home games), Drexel was invited to take part in a showcase tournament featuring four Philadelphia teams. Both Temple and St. Joseph’s took part in the main tournament (Temple went 0-3 and St. Joseph’s was 1-2), which the University of California won.
Saturday, May 30 was a round robin day, with Drexel playing Penn, La Salle and Villanova once.
The Dragons heard throughout the season that their players didn’t have the size other teams’ did.
“Many people questioned how we would stack up against bigger opponents,” Bukowski said. “We made it a goal that we would dominate on defense and hit harder. We accomplished this as most of our scores came off defensive plays.”
Drexel executing a play during its round robin game against La Salle in PPL Park during the Philadelphia showcase tournament.
Drexel swept the competition, even putting up a 21-0 shutout against La Salle.
Villanova emerged as Drexel’s opponent for the City 4 final. They’d played tough Saturday, with the Dragons pulling out a 14-5 victory over the Wildcats (that’s less than two “tries,” similar to touchdowns in football but worth five points).
“Saturday night, we watched the game and took note of their weaknesses and saw where we could exploit them,” Wright said. “The coaching staff set us up for success and it was on us to execute on the field.”
Playing for the Philadelphia Cup
Villanova played as tough as promised. At halftime of the City 4 championship game Saturday, the Dragons were leading 12-5, but the Wildcats scored quickly when play resumed, putting the game at 12-10.
Wright said his team was able to draw strength from supporters cheering on the Dragons.
“It was amazing seeing our fans in the crowd with Drexel jerseys and hats on,” he said.
Drexel scored on a try to make it 17-10, but missed the kick after their score, called a conversion (similar to kicking the extra point in football but worth two points).
“We were leading but the nerves were still there with me,” Wright said. “Then, after some great team defense the ball came free and was scooped up by our co-captain, Trevor Bloomfield. I knew we had won when he crossed the try-line and we went up 22-10.”
After a conversion kick, Drexel went up 24-10, which would be the final.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bukowski said. “Any time you work that hard to win, there’s not a better feeling in the world. We hope to get back to work soon and carry our momentum into next season.”
The Drexel rugby team outside PPL Park during the Collegiate Rugby Championship.
Next season, the Dragons will be a part of the top tournament in the Collegiate Rugby Championship, due to the City 4 victory.
Wright feels the team is in good position for the increase in competition level.
“We are a young team and will be returning at least nine out of the 12 guys who played this year,” he said. “We had a few guys step up last weekend who are sophomores or just started playing rugby this year — our leading scorer for the tournament, Greg Yeager, is a sophomore.”
“Knowing that we have already qualified for the tournament next year allows us to begin preparation this summer and will no doubt put us in a position to succeed,” Wright continued.
Overall, Wright knows Drexel rugby is on its way up.
“I have received various emails from new students interested in coming out and playing and I am receiving emails from high school players who would like more information on our program,” he said. “With the support of Drexel Athletics and Club Sports, we are making our way to the next level as a team.”