Illinois rugby slammed by injuries in fall season

By Carley Kulenkamp

Tweet: Illinois Club Rugby inconsistent in Fall season

By Carley Kulenkamp

Staff writer

The Illinois men’s rugby team had a season full of ups and downs this fall, finishing 2-4 in the Big Ten. 

Before the first game, the team was optimistic about the upcoming season. With many returning players and fresh new talent, the Illini were ready to take the Big Ten by storm. 

“We want to win the Big Ten, obviously, but overall we just want to improve and play great as a team.” Mario Lozano, senior scrum half, said before the season started.

Illinois faced two of the toughest teams in the conference in its first two weeks of play — Indiana and Ohio State. Both opponents dropped 52 points on the Illini, who started their season 0-2.

The Ohio State loss took was particularly costly: Illinois’ captain Matt Ramsey suffered a season-ending ACL tear against the Buckeyes. Ramsey was the team’s fly half, and after the injury, freshman Joey Lincoln took over for Ramsey at this position and Lozano took on the kicking responsibilities. 

After suffering the two losses, Illinois went on a two game winning streak. The Illini defeated Iowa and Minnesota for its only victories on the season.  For his play against Iowa — he scored three tries in the 51-10 win — Lozano was honored as the D1A Rugby Player of the Week. 

Despite its midseason success, Illinois couldn’t rally past Purdue the next week to push its record over .500. Once again, the Illini were plagued by injury as Danny Lyons was sidelined due to injury. Due to the the injuries and absences, many younger and less experienced players took the field to battle the Boilermakers. This game also marked the first time that Lozano would be acting captain for the Illini.

In the last game of the regular season, Illinois was defeated by Michigan to end its fall. Even though the game didn’t go as planned, Daniels felt that the team had played its best half of rugby during the first half. Injury struck the Illini again as three players, Matt Paolucci, Luis Corona, and Lincoln, were all taken out of the game for various injuries. 

Illinois faced off against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship weekend, competing for fifth place. The Spartans proved to be too much for the Illini, defeating them 68-10. 

By the end of the season, a few different Illini were ranked among the conference’s statistical leaders. Lozano was No. 9 for points scored, No. 15 for tries scored, No. 6 for conversions and No. 5 for penalties kicked. Ramsey, despite only playing in two games, was No. 10 for conversions and No. 2 for penalties kicked. 

John Heaney was also named to the All-Big Ten Rugby team. 

The team will be back in action in March to kick off the spring season. 

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