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The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

SLU Rugby sits atop the South

Courtesy of ARUN/Facebook
SLU Rugby breaks from the trenches against Virginia Military Institute.

In the last few years, Southeastern has become the hub for regional collegiate sports. Hammond has earned the moniker “Title Town” for SLU’s successes, and among the Green and Gold’s recent mountain of achievements lies a few from the bruising, dominant 2023 SLU Rugby team. 

Today’s iteration of the club is fairly new; former high school coaches Dr. Don Hart and Mark Dixon reestablished the team in 2018. The club’s former iteration, founded in 1967, won multiple state championships and drew worldwide attention and participation in the Hammond Mardi Gras Tournament, according to Leon Ford Endowed Chair and Professor of History Dr. Samuel Hyde. 

Upon its revival, SLU Rugby immediately resumed its decorated legacy. They rejoined the Deep South Conference and reached the Division II playoffs against the University of Memphis in 2019 before ultimately opting out of the match. 

Three years later, SLU stormed back and made it to a play-in game against Sewanee. At the doorstep of the playoffs, the Lions lost, lowering the curtains in disappointing fashion on an otherwise great season. 

“A couple of my players were very emotional coming off the field last year. [Sewanee] was the team we knew that if we had to play them for a championship or in the playoffs, we wanted to play them,” Dixon said. 

Dixon eventually took over as head coach, and the team, reeling from 2022’s bitter conclusion, entered 2023 with a desire for vengeance. They left the Deep South to join the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference’s (SCRC) Small College South division, which included Tulane and Sewanee, among other schools.

“We had probably about 90% of the team come back to take another shot at it. So, in addition to moving from the Deep South to the SCRC, we were very well motivated to play at a high level…There are a lot of collegiate rugby clubs who are more social than us. We’re focused on having winning teams, training and development,” Dixon said. 

SLU began 2023 on a torrid streak, dominating their opponents in nearly every single game. On Saturday, Sept. 16, the team opened their season by shutting out Tulane 31-0, then shut out ULL 15-0 just a few weeks later. 

Their lone blemish during this run was a 57-0 non-conference loss against Sam Houston State in late September. While they were soundly defeated, the loss, according to Dixon, was a wake-up call for the team. He said they realized they needed to step it up even more. 

The club shook off the loss and resumed its conference tirade, rounding out its statewide onslaught by handing LA Tech a 60-7 shellacking on Saturday, Oct. 7. They defeated Spring Hill 15-0 on Saturday, Oct. 14, before clinching the Small College South with another win over Tulane, 57-12, on Saturday, Oct. 28, securing an undefeated conference record heading into Hendersonville, Tennessee, the host site for the SCRC 15s Small College Championship. 

They played Vanderbilt in the semifinals, routing them 50-6, before commencing a string of immensely close, grind-it-out games, the first being the small college championship final against their old nemesis, Sewanee. 

SLU’s revenge game produced a tense affair that ultimately came down to the club’s final drive, where they had to score in virtually perfect fashion. With no time left, if they committed a penalty, the game would conclude, handing Sewanee another victory over the Lions. They prevailed, cashing in a clutch score to vanquish Sewanee and win the small college championship, 41-33.  

“[Beating Sewanee] was such a great feeling, because we left that game last year feeling so disappointed,” sophomore flyhalf Felix Hamilton-Marino said.  

Dixon said he planned a series of steps for his guys to achieve throughout the playoffs: the first was to prepare a game plan and the second was to beat Sewanee. He likened their desire to beat Sewanee to “getting the monkey off our backs.” 

There was no rest for the newly anointed champs; however, the very next weekend, on Saturday, Nov. 11, they were back in Tennessee to play College of Charleston, the small college victor from the Southern Rugby Conference, for the right to advance to the NCR Small College playoffs in Culpepper, Virginia. SLU defeated them in another nail-biter, 42-39, to punch their ticket to the national playoffs. 

The weekend after that, on Saturday, Nov. 18, they again sweated out another close win over No. 5 Virginia Military Institute, 29-24. Hamilton-Marino, a fifteen-year rugby veteran, had his brightest moment of the season in this match. 

After coming back from a 21-5 deficit and taking the game to overtime, Hamilton-Marino scored the game-winning try to send his team to the final eight.  

“In overtime, I got the ball at the halfway line, I fake passed it to my teammate and the guy in front of me just slips out the way. I thought, ‘There’s no way this is happening right now,’” Hamilton-Marino said. 

Their impeccable run to the playoffs ended in the final eight, though, as they fell to No. 4 Catholic University, 28-24, concluding their season just short of the national playoff’s final four. 

Though the Lions played a valiant game, Dixon said he felt they left an opportunity on the table. 

“It feels like last year [against Sewanee], like we have unfinished business. I have guys texting me all the time, saying, ‘Coach, I’m already ready for next year,’” he said.  

Alongside the championship win and national playoff appearance, Dixon and a few club members picked up some more accolades to bolster their historic season. 

Hamilton-Marino, Allen Pennington, Jeffrey Bell, Dondi Davis and Michael Kennedy were all named to the SCRC Small College All-Conference Team. 

Pennington, in particular, won the SCRC Small College Player of the Year and Dixon was named the division’s Coach of the Year. They were also ranked as the tenth-highest small college team in the entire nation. 

“The boys have really developed well over the past few years. If I win a coaching award for that, that’s great, but they put in a lot of hard work to get there,” Dixon said. 

In the offseason, Dixon plans to establish a high school rugby program at Coquille Park in Covington, where students from local schools can join, learn the game and play other teams in the region. 

The main goal, though, is to run it back next year. Hamilton-Marino said he wants to see his team put on weight during the offseason. 

“I expect everyone to be in the gym because we’ve seen how far we can get this year. If we do [workout], I think we can make it further,” Hamilton-Marino said. 

He also said he’d like to see SLU promote the program more so athletes know they have an opportunity to play sports again while in school. 

“There’s a lot of people I know personally that have given up on their sports. They didn’t get any scholarships for football or baseball,” he said. 

Dixon expressed a similar sentiment, stating that though they wear the SLU logo on their jerseys, he’s unsure if the community even knows the team exists. 

“We feel like we represent the university. I’ve always felt we need to align ourselves with the university, and I’ve wanted to make the administration and athletics proud of what we put out on the field,” he said.

Dixon is looking to ramp up recruitment for next year and aims to have enough players to form an A side and a B side, which would serve as a developmental team. He said students interested in joining should message the team’s Facebook page. The club also frequently tables in the Student Union Breezeway.

“For students who may not have heard of rugby, come win a championship. Come learn the sport,” Dixon said. 

For more information on Southeastern Rugby, visit their Instagram, Facebook or SCRC page. Fans can watch full SLU games on SCRC’s YouTube channel.

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About the Contributor
Kennith Woods
Kennith Woods, News Editor
Kennith Woods is a sophomore communication major with a concentration in television and multimedia journalism and a creative writing minor. A resident of Prairieville, Kennith is The Lion’s Roar’s newly-minted news editor. His passion for progressive change within our communities is the driving factor behind his educational pursuits, as he wants to use journalism to facilitate vital information to the public and simultaneously serve as a mouthpiece for the people’s needs and concerns.
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