The University of Texas Rugby Club’s season came to an end on Saturday with a 64-10 beat down at the hands of the U.S. Naval Academy in the Varsity Cup quarterfinals.
“I knew it was going to be a long day, and we would have to be our best,” first-year head coach Christopher “Bus” Hopps said of the loss to the Midshipmen. “On a day we needed to be our best, we just weren’t.”
That brutal loss is just a small part of what has been an otherwise spectacular season for the young Longhorn squad.
The same Texas team that nearly lost to Stephen F. Austin at the beginning of the year found itself competing last month against Texas State in the Southwest Conference Championship. The much-improved Longhorns blew out the Bobcats 40-17 in San Marcos to cap off a regular season that saw the team go undefeated in Texas, satisfying the demands of its new head coach.
“We just want to perform at or above our potential,” Hopps said. “I think, this year, what that ended up being is seeing [the Longhorns] become the premier program in the state of Texas. We’ve taken the lead in Texas, and, next, we are taking the lead in the nation.”
Two weeks ago, the Longhorns sought to take their cause outside of Texas, as the squad began competition in the Varsity Cup, the most prestigious post-season tournament in collegiate rugby. The team traveled to South Bend, Ind., to take on highly touted Notre Dame in the opening round of the 12-team single elimination tournament.
The underdog Longhorns erupted out of the gate against the Fighting Irish, piling on points early en route to a 55-33 victory.
“We just came out strong, and we didn’t let off,” said Danny Camara, club president and graduating psychology senior. “It was probably the best game of rugby [Texas] has played since I’ve been here.”
The win propelled Texas rugby to relevance on the national stage, where the Longhorns hope to become a fixture in the next couple of years.
“We learned that we were able to play to a standard that we had never played before,” Hopps said. “It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s not a fluke that we got here.”
The loss to Navy may not have been the conclusion Camara and his fellow seniors were hoping for, but, with only four starters graduating, the future looks bright for Hopps’ Longhorns.
“[Our freshman class] is as any I’ve ever been around in rugby, and I said the same thing about our freshman class last year,” Hopps said. “With those two groups of young men together, I think you can expect to see good things from Texas rugby for the next three or four years.”
One of the strong freshman Hopps is talking about is flanker Reed Hogan, who has been a fixture in the Longhorns’ starting lineup this season. Hogan and the rest of the freshman may have served as solid starters, but the youngster knows that he has not reached his full potential.
“It definitely helped the team having freshman who had played [rugby before coming to UT], but we can only get better,” Hogan, a communication studies freshman, said. “I expect us to win our conference again and beat A&M and OU.”
With a strong core of young players, the new kids on the block should be getting comfortable on the center stage.