Rich Daniels, the president of the Illinois men’s rugby team, circled 2nd, 9th and 16th on the month of April on his calendar as soon as the schedule of the season is set.

The dates that Daniels marked are the three “sevens” tournaments that will decide whether the rugby team will receive an invitation to the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia in June. With Michigan and Indiana, the two powerhouses in the Big Ten, already received their invitations, that left only one open spot to enter the CRC from the Big Ten conference. With a healthier team this spring, the Illinois men’s rugby team is set to make some noise.

The rugby team play two kinds of rugby: Sevens and fifteen.

In sevens, there are seven-minute halves with seven players from each team on the field. It is a faster pace game compared to fifteens. It also leaves more space on the field due to the fewer number of players, which place a greater emphasis on the conditioning of the players.

In fifteens, there are 40-minute halves and it is 15 vs. 15. With less space on the fields due to increase number of players, having a good strength and technique becomes critical for the players.

In the spring, Sevens is considered the more serious types because it is sanctioned by the Big Ten. Fifteen is sanctioned by the Big Ten in the fall.

Coming off the season with an 8-4 record, the rugby team had a successful but injury filled season.

“After the first game, we never really had a full lineup of everyone we needed. We had to throw some of the newer guys, they got some good experiences out of it which helps prepare them for this season,” said Senior Mario Lozano.

The record didn’t tell the whole story of how the season went. The team had an 8-2 record going into the Big Ten Championship tournament but lost two in a row to Michigan and Michigan State to end the season.

“Even though we had the 2nd best record in the conference, we took 6th place overall,” Daniels said.

This season, Daniels is confident that the team will do better, especially with most of the key players returning and healthy.

One exception is the senior captain, Matt Ramsey, who has to sit out this season due to a tore ACL.

Although Ramsey may not be a contributor on the field this season, he is making an impact on the team by serving as the student coach for the sevens team.

Ramsey served as the student coach last season when he was healthy as well. However, his injury opens up the opportunity for him to coach full-time.

“It’s actually much easier now to only coach compared to having to coach and play as it gives you a much different perspective of the team,” Ramsey said.

By being the coach, Ramsey said that he has to distance himself from the players for a little. It was a tough transition for him but he sees it as necessary because it allows him to push the players harder and correct the players on the fly if they make mistakes.

“Last year I would have to make mental notes of what to correct for specific players and then give feedback at the next dead ball, but now I can pull them off to the side and nip it in the bud,” Ramsey said.

Lozano said that having Ramsey as the one guy that look over the team and that everyone listen to is critical for the team in preparing for the upcoming tournament.

Ramsey also designed the workouts and helped making sure that everyone on the team is giving their fullest.

“He has been putting guys through pretty rigorous workouts and really preparing the team for this season.” Daniels said. “He’s been really on top of his game.”

After weeks of productive practices, Ramsey has a very high expectation for the team this season. He believed the team is right there with schools like Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“I expect Wisconsin, Ohio State and Indiana to be our toughest games. However if we can beat two of them, which is very do-able, we will advance to the CRCs this summer which would be a first for the Illini and a very big deal for the club,” Ramsey said

The team open their season this Saturday, when they head North to Chicago for the “Whiskey’s Tens Rugby Tournament.”

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