Lindenwood University, located in St. Charles, Mo, has been established for nearly 200 years but the Lions’ rugby program is only three years old. The program has progressed from Division II to Division 1-AA and now is moving into Division 1-A for the 2013-14 season. Along the way, the Lions have earned a reputation as a formidable team. The success of Lindenwood rugby is no accident. This is one of the rare instances when a university’s administration was a driving force behind the creation and development of a college rugby program.
Lindenwood University does not offer club sports of any kind. The University wants to provide a college athletic experience to as many students as possible. The administration believes that sports help students develop skills and attributes that they will need after they graduate. Experience in overcoming challenges, interpersonal communication skills from working in a team environment, and an improved sense of responsibility and work ethic are all part of the athletic experience. Lindenwood University offers 50 fully-supported varsity sports programs to the student body.
A few years ago, some students expressed interest in starting a rugby team. The administration looked into the national college rugby environment and liked what they saw. They made the decision to create both a men’s and women’s varsity rugby program. They hired coaches and gave the athletes access to the same training facilities that their Division II football program uses. The University provides athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. Last year, a rugby-specific turf pitch was built for the program.
Scholarships are available to male and female rugby players. The scholarships vary depending on several factors including a student’s academic achievements and rugby skill. All of the University’s student athletes receive free tutoring and free access to the writing lab where papers can be reviewed and critiqued prior to submission.
The women’s rugby team is lead by head coach Jeff Wilson and Annalise Evans, who has impressive credentials as a player in her own right. The women did not join a conference in the 2011-12 season. Instead, they played games independently which allowed them to develop with the intent of competing in the following season in an organized conference. They joined the Illinois Rugby Union’s 2nd division in 2012 and won the conference’s championship in 2013. For the upcoming season, the team will compete in the Thunderbirds South D-1 conference.
The captain of the women’s team is scrum half Amanda Martins. Martins got her start in rugby playing with Sebastian River High School in Florida under head coach Alan Dobson. She is currently on tour in Wales with the Midwest U-23 team. Wilson has been working hard to recruit all-star caliber student athletes to his program. The incoming freshman class is loaded with talent.
Ron Laszewski is the head coach of the Lindenwood University men’s rugby team. Laszewski was the first coach to earn USA Rugby’s Advanced Coaching IRB level 3 certification. He has coached for over 20 years and has coaching experience in the USA Rugby age grade and men’s national team levels. During his playing days, Laszewski played in New Zealand’s premier level. Back home in the U.S. he captained the Western territorial select side and was selected to the Men’s National Team.
Laszewski is joined by assistant coaches JD Stephenson and Sam Beaumont. Stephenson and Beaumont are products of the ACT Brumbies Academy in Australia, where they gained extensive experience as players. The most recent addition to the coaching staff is long time Fijian international and professional Seru Rabeni, who works with the backs and the sevens team.
With the full backing of the University, the rugby program has flourished. The men’s rugby program fields a freshman, JV and varsity squad. In 2012, the Lions were USA Rugby Division II National Champions. In 2013, they were USA Rugby Division 1-AA finalists. Now the team is moving into Division 1-A and, what could arguably be the strongest college conference in America, the Mid-south Conference. In addition to the non-conference D1-A competition they will play, the Lions will square off twice each against Davenport University, Arkansas State University, and Life University. All of the teams in this conference have at least one USA Rugby National Championship trophy in their showcase already and it’s a certainty that they all want more.
The Lions are eager to measure themselves against the best competition they can find. Laszewski sees the competitive progression as part of the University’s original plan. “The competition level is going to be immense. That is why you play the game… it’s what you dream about.”
The team is returning all but four players from last year’s squad. Flanker Trevor Locke has graduated and will be missed. But look for the Lions outstanding back row to step up. All-American Tyler Black, Sebastian Kalm and Tama Paogofie-Buyten are all high-caliber talents and are expected to make an impact every game. In the tight five look for lock, Daniel Bope, and All-American loosehead prop, Austin Tijerina, to fire the engine room up for the Lions. In the backs, keep an eye out for former New Zealand U-17 selectee Mickey Bateman at flyhalf, Morgan Findlay at fullback, and scrum half Nick Markowski to lead the way.
Laszewski and his staff have put a lot of work into recruiting. The coach is very pleased with the incoming freshman class and would not be surprised to see some of the new guys challenging for a slot on the first XV.
The future is bright for the Lindenwood rugby programs. The teams enter the 2014 season well-prepared for the challenges that face them. With the full weight of the University behind them, the Lions will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
For more information about Lindenwood University’s rugby programs, check out their respective websites: