Second straight Sweet 16 in sight for Kato Rugby

When the Minnesota State men’s rugby team announced its schedule for the Fall 2023 season via Instagram, the team was excited to go out and compete. But since that day, they have been on fire. 

Currently owners of a 5-0 record, the Mavs have posted dominant wins like their 40-5 victory over Minnesota-Duluth, but have also shown their ability to win close, exemplified by their opening day 14-7 triumph against Moorhead.

The Mavs have moved up to No. 17 in Division II rugby, good enough for the best team in all of Minnesota. At the beginning of the year, the Mavs were ranked 27th, and have maintained a top-35 rank since, but have recently been climbing their way up the leaderboard.

This season, the conference that the Mavs play in has been restructured. It is now broken up into a competitive and developmental conference. The Mavs are a part of the competitive conference after their 2022 Northern Lights Conference championship win and they are now in a position to make some noise again on a bigger stage.

“We feel like we’re kind of always the underdogs. Mankato has always had a reputation of being more of a social club, or for fun, but now we are really making the transition to a sports team,” said captain Paxton Pagel. “We were one of the top 16 teams in the nation last year, but this year we are still trying to improve and go a little bit further than that.

After making it to St. Louis for the National Tournament Sweet 16, the Mavs fell in two straight games, knocking them out of the playoffs.

“We definitely were met with a sour taste in our mouth after that, having made it that far and losing to two teams in a row,” Pagel said. “We know we can get back there this year and win it for the seniors that were there with us.”

Which brings us back to this season. Rugby is a club sport at MSU, which differs from the hockey, football or basketball teams that we see play. 

“The main reason would be the difficulty of getting players to join the team,” said Blake Martin, president of the club and another captain of the team.

For Martin, Pagel and the rest of the team, this meant they had work to do after losing some key players. Recruitment is essential to maintaining a full squad of players on a club team. 

“I feel like the word club deters some people because not everyone wants to be a part of a club, but it really is a sports team more than it is a club,” Pagel said. 

This message seemed to be received by interested students around the MSU campus, as their recruitment efforts were a success.

“We lost a couple of our good seniors, and I was a little nervous about that,” Martin said. “But after our first week of recruiting we had like 40 guys. It dies off a little bit because guys have school and other things to take care of, but we keep it pretty consistent with about 25 guys.”

Fast-forward to the present day and the Mavs have not lost a game, seem to be on the same page, with one common goal in mind — making it back to the Sweet 16. With only one more regular season game left, the Mavs are well on their way. The only team standing in their way of regular season perfection is North Dakota State University.

“NDSU is kind of the team to beat. They are the guys that are going to be our biggest rival,” Pagel said.

The regular season finale is set to begin at noon on Saturday at the Mankato Rugby Pitch.

To learn more about the MSU rugby team, reach out to Blake or Paxton, or follow their Instagram, @katorugby, where all scores and game updates are posted.

“The best way to get involved with and learn about rugby is playing it,” Martin said.

Header Photo: Rugby is an overlooked sport at MSU, but these guys are looking to change the narrative surrounding their beloved program. (Photo courtesy of Blake Martin)

Write to Hayden Lee at hayden.lee@mnsu.edu

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