Illinois beaten but not defeated in conference matchup

By Carley Kulenkamp

The Illinois rugby team was finally able to go face-to-face with the defending Big Ten champion Indiana Hoosiers after having the game pushed back to Sunday due to inclement weather.

The energy on the field was palpable amidst the chants of “Illini” and “Hoo-Hoo-Hoo-Hoosiers” as both teams prepared for the match.

Illinois finished the half behind the Hoosiers 26-6 — the deficit came despite two free kicks converted by Illini captain Matt Ramsey. Going into the second half, the Illini offense came more into its own. Ramsey started off the half by scoring on a free kick. Later in the game, Ramsey and Martin Giannetti both scored tries — Ramsey converted on both.

Three players: Connor Marsh, Jake Hidalgo, and Bryce Campbell all scored two tries apiece. Teddy Terezis, last years Big Ten points-leader, was 6-for-8 on conversions.

Indiana won 52-23, but Rich Daniels, Illinois’ club president, said that the score did not reflect the Illini’s toughness and skill.

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“I’m very happy with how we played,” Daniels said. “Our defense played well with few missed tackles, and our offense was cohesive and committed only small mistakes.

Indiana took advantage when Illinois missed tackles and dropped passes. The Hoosiers capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes and demonstrated why they hold the No. 12 spot nationally for D1A rugby.

Despite Indiana’s dominance, Illinois’ Elijah Seay was very pleased with his team’s performance and said he believed that the Illini surpassed their expectations by playing with tremendous “heart and fire.”

Seay agreed with Daniels that the score did not accurately reflect how hard the Illini played.

“They were a good test for sure,” Seay said. “I think we played really well, especially for it being our first conference game of the year.”

The Hoosiers’ back line is strong, and their centers are some of the biggest the Illini will face this year. But Seay said he thought that Illinois had good answers for Indiana defensively.

It wasn’t that long ago that Illinois was nationally ranked. During the 2012-2013 season, the Illini were the No. 17 team in the country.

Despite the loss, Daniels and the team believe Illinois rugby can again claim a top-20 spot nationally. But in order to achieve this goal, Illinois will need to limit its number of minor mistakes.

“Now we’ve proven that we have the heart, so we can’t let ourselves down because we’re playing ourselves every game,” Seay said.

For the Illini, according to Seay, it’s not all about winning, it’s about improving themselves everyday and leaving the field knowing that they gave it the best they could.

Illinois will be working on three key areas — defensive positioning, ball handling and conditioning — before its next game against Ohio State.

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