The University of Memphis Tigers rugby team has slowly been rebuilt and could soon peak higher than any other team in Tennessee.
The Tigers (5-3) have found ways to compete and win against dominant rugby teams. Two main factors benefit the team and could continue to improve throughout the next few years.
The Tigers should be in a conference by next season
The Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference (SCRC) has been home to the majority of universities that also have a football team in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). It is viewed as one of the better rugby conferences in the nation, and the UofM coaches and players have agreed to work towards a seed in the SCRC.
Head coach Steve Swatzyna said the team is “all but a shoe in the door from being in the conference.”
The Tigers have scheduled matches with four of the 10 teams in the SCRC and have been competitive in each game. The Tigers lost to MTSU twice by a one-point and two-point margin. Memphis hosted Mississippi State and defeated them 34-12.
The Tigers traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the Volunteers and were leading at halftime in the first game 13-7. Tennessee rallied and snagged the first game 41-13. The second game the Tigers won 26-22 and returned to Memphis going 1-1. The Tigers played the Vols last season and were victorious 23-5.
The Volunteers played MTSU and held them scoreless 68-0. The Mississippi State Bulldogs also played UTK and lost 67-0. The fact the Tigers were leading against the Vols at halftime and most likely raised some eyebrows around the conference.
The next and final SCRC opponent the Tigers will play will be a rematch against Ole Miss after the first meeting in February was canceled. The Volunteers demolished Ole Miss 76-12. If the Tigers can put up impressive figures in the Ole Miss game and win, there should be little discussion of eligibility for this conference.
Every player on the team will return
The Tigers have 14 freshmen on the team and nearly all of them have started in multiple games. The roster has been filled with youth and dedication that could paint a strong future for this team.
Grant Caldwell has been prolific scorer as a kicker and in the backline. AJ Wilson, Ian Byers, Turk Wigley and Ryan Coleman have had high success on the field as well. A stacked roster will only create competition for a starting spot which will in return raise the skill of the team.
Tiger Rugby president Joel Witcher and captain Musa Banat are both juniors and will continue leading the team into next season. Britton Roedel will also be returning following his so far highlight season after scoring more than five tries.
The entire roster will return next season because there are no seniors on the team.
Swatzyna said the team could expand by another 20 players by next season. He said they have recruited extremely well and could have a lengthy roster.
This team is slowly getting more established and could one day become the greatest team in Tennessee.