Men’s rugby looks forward to postseason after historic year


Isaac Hinson, Sports Editor

The CWU men’s rugby team have punched their ticket to the playoffs. Finishing the regular season with a nearly undefeated 8-1 record, the Wildcats cemented their best ranking in team history, earning the number one seed in the West Region of the College Rugby Association of America’s (CRAA) D1A postseason.

The Wildcats will be entering the postseason on an extended break. Their final match of the regular season, which was scheduled to be against number five seed Lindenwood University on April 1, was canceled due to undisclosed circumstances, and with their high placement in the postseason bracket they’ve earned a bye week. Head Coach Todd Thornley believes that this prolonged hiatus will prove fruitful for the team’s health. 

“Potentially having three weeks off compared to two can be a little bit too much,” Thornley said. “But I think for our situation, in terms of managing some swole bodies and a few injuries and things like that, the runway is giving us a little bit longer to get those guys back and be more patient with them.” 

The additional time-off also gives the team a chance to look at how they feel about themselves heading into the tournament, and make any adjustments they feel necessary. 

“We can really focus on refining our identity and what we do well and trying to make that even better,” Thornley said. “I think given our situation, it’s really important that we’ve had this opportunity to refresh a little bit, but also grow our game.”

The Wildcats lone loss this season came by one point against five-time national champions Brigham Young University (BYU) on March 18. In the playoffs, they will be playing the winner of the BYU vs. University of Arizona (UA) game happening on April 8.

Fifth year flanker and 8 Man Marques Fuala’au said the team is hungry for redemption if they end up on the field with BYU. 

“That loss really hurt,” Fuala’au said. “BYU is one of our bigger rivals, so getting an opportunity to face BYU again would be awesome. I think the boys want to prove that we had more. We left more on the table. We want to lay it all out there if we get the chance to see those guys again.”

Thornley said that the team’s preparation won’t change much based on who the Wildcats end up playing, as he sees similarities between the two teams. 

“They play very similarly in terms of the way they use the ball,” Thornley said. “So for us from a preparation standpoint, nothing really changes in terms of what we need to do well, regardless of what the opponent is. That makes it less challenging.” 

Heading into the tournament, the Wildcats have confidence in themselves against both possible teams. Alas, they’re prepared for any result, and admire both teams as competitors. 

“As a whole we’re pretty excited about either opponent,” Thornley said. “We have a lot of belief that we could beat either, but we also have a lot of respect for them. It’s a whole new season in a way… We lost to BYU by a point, and then managed to scrape by Arizona. [But] those results don’t really mean anything when it comes to knockout rugby now.”

Along with the bye-week, the Wildcats will also be treated to having home-field advantage through every game of the tournament, besides the championship game which is set to take place in Houston, Texas on May 6. 

CWU’s loss to BYU came on the road in Utah. Thornley said he looks at playing in Ellensburg as a disadvantage for the incoming opponent just as much as he does an advantage for the Wildcats. 

“It’s just so hard to travel to Ellensburg from the places that our opponents would have to come from,” Thornley said. “It’s definitely affecting them. Also just having our own home comforts, our own bed and then a field that we’re very well aware of and used to playing on.” 

Marques Fuala’au being celebrated at senior night. Photo by Jacob Thompson, Thompson Sports Media.

Thornley and Fuala’au both anticipate being able to play in front of the CWU faithful, and for Fuala’au it’s been a long time coming. 

“It’s huge,” Fuala’au said about playing at home. “I’ve been here for five years now, we’ve never had the opportunity to host a playoff game… BYU’s crowd gets real rowdy down in Utah, and I think we get the opportunity to show them how rowdy Ellensburg can be.” 

“[We’re] very fortunate that we have some great fans that come and watch our games and pack the stadium out,” Thornley said. “It’s nice because we’ve been on the other side of it, in terms of having to travel to playoff games and things like that… I do think it’s an advantage that we can hopefully make the most of.” 

With nine seniors on the team, Fuala’au among them, this season will prove to be the last chance for many of the players on the team to win a championship. Fuala’au said the Wildcats are ready to prove what the years of work have been for, while also highlighting Thornley’s impact as a coach. 

“We’re just lucky enough to have a head coach like Todd who puts in so much time and effort,” Fuala’au said. “Just growing this program from pretty much the dirt to where it is now and sticking to it, I think our fruits of our labor are starting to show. It just means so much. We were just talking about it this weekend with some of the other guys who are just really locked in and trying to throw everything at this, because not many times do people get an opportunity like this.”

Todd Thornley observing. Photo by Jacob Thompson, Thompson Sports Media.

Thornley himself said he is ready to give the seniors he’s been with for the last four years their championship, and hopes to help bring them to that ultimate goal. 

“One of the best parts of the job is seeing guys come in as fresh-faced 18-year-olds and then seeing what they leave us as,” Thornley said. “This class is no different. They’re what I want this program to be all about. They’re hard-working, good people who care about other things apart from themselves … We’re going to miss them deeply. Absolutely we want to do everything we can for them because they’re doing everything they can for us, and make sure we can go out on a potentially very high note.” 

The Wildcats will play the winner of BYU vs. UA on April 15 at Tomlinson Stadium.