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Tiger rugby prepares for new possibilities with upcoming season

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For the first time in Tiger Rugby history, the University of Memphis Rugby Football Club has been introduced as a member of the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference and will play renowned teams from the southeast in the upcoming fall season.

Musa Banat, the captain of the Tiger Rugby team, said it was a long overhaul of the program and he was pleased to begin his final year with the team as the leader.

“This season is expected to be the greatest by far,” Banat said. “With the most players that the team has ever had and the most coaches willing to commit as much time needed for success, it’s clear that this season has a lot to offer. This season should have a lot more success when it comes to our record as well in the conference. Hopefully, we can go undefeated and place well in the league.”

With the addiion of conference membership, the Tigers will have the opprotunity to compete in the postseason.

The Tigers finished last season 8-4 with a handful of close games and many displays of talent across the field. Many of the teams Memphis played last season are scheduled to play in the upcoming fall season.

Returning competitors include North Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and MTSU. Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech are new additions to the Tigers’ list of competition. The Tigers are limited to three home games this season.

“The main goal is always to do our absolute best and have fun while doing it,” Banat said. “This season the rugby team wants to set a standard that has never been set and have sights aimed at joining the biggest D1 divisions.”

Coach Steve Swatzyna declared the off-season a success due to both recruiting and the new coaching additions to the Tiger Rugby team. 

“8 and 4 was reasonable for a young, mostly freshmen team,” Swatzyna said. “We only lost a few players leaving school, and with 28 returning players we have a secure core that understands our style of play, our commitment to fitness and winning.” 

The Tigers expanded their coaching staff as well by adding three new faces to the program: Tony Brooks, the former head coach and founder of the White Station High School Rugby program who agreed to devote time towards the Tiger Rugby program; Marc Holley, who joined the coaching staff after leaving his previous job as the head coach and founder of the Germantown High School Rugby program; and Shane Young, head coach and founder of Memphis Inner City Rugby who joined the party to increase the coaching staff number to six in total. Dr. Rick Cole took leadership of logistics and scheduling again this year.

With 45 years of rugby experience amassed among the coaching staff, Swatzyna said this is by far one of the best sets of coaching a team could have.

The team had exceptional success recruiting in the offseason, having brought in 20 new players from across the country and the Shelby County area. Banat said several of the new recruits are very talented and recognized players by the USA South Rugby Team and Tennessee Tri-Stars. Concluding the summer, the team raised its player count to 50 after no players graduated from the program.

“Excited would be an understatement”, Swatzyna said. “We will have enough people to have full scrimmages in practice and players will have to work harder for the playing time.” 

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