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GCU Men’s Rugby: 2020-21 Season Recap

rugby kick off
June 29, 2021

Pool noodles keep Lopes’ spirit afloat during turbulent season

By: Zach Melcher/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff

Development. Growth.

Pool noodles?

The Grand Canyon University Men’s Rugby team’s 2020-21 season was anything but ordinary. The Lopes’ coaches and staff were forced to find interesting ways to deal with the rugby team’s COVID restrictions.

“Almost everything was restricted – from the workouts to the field training,” said Lopes’ Assistant Manager Hunter Twamley. “We had to have masks, smaller groups, and complete temperature and COVID-19 checks before every practice.  To be able to train, you had to get creative to keep the players’ skills working and continuing to grow.”

In the Lopes’ training sessions, they would use pool noodles to emulate tackling each other along with other games to help the team continue developing while maintaining social distancing protocols.

“The downside to all that is it was hard for the boys to want to follow, but they did a great job,” said Twamley. “As the season went on, the boys could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so it made it way easier.”

After a fall full of unorthodox practice methods, spring allowed for some normalcy with the first full contact match for the Lopes. The intrasquad scrimmage was played at GCU Stadium – some 50 weeks after the last actual match the Lopes participated in – and was filled with such a surplus of passion that Lopes’ Head Coach Sean O’Leary stopped the match early.

“When I went out at the first game, it was like playing for the first time,” said Twamley. “It was the best feeling – especially for all the new players we had this year.”

Although the Lopes’ schedule had its fair share of revisions, the season boiled down to a two-game match up with the University of Arizona.

The first matchup in Tucson had a lopsided final score, but the Lopes’ players found the scoreboard misleading.

“When you watch the film, you can see the score doesn’t reflect what happened on the field,” said Lopes’ senior fullback Dominick Iacovino. “I believe we had seven or eight freshmen starting and playing, which gave them great experience of D1 college rugby and showed us our future is bright.”

The second and final matchup of the season – played at the GCU Practice Soccer Field – again showed the inexperience of the Lopes at the hands of the No. 7 Wildcats.

“There’s nothing like playing in front of our home crowd with all of our family and friends there, but at the same time knowing that this is your last game on a shortened season is tough for anyone,” said Lopes’ senior fly-half Royce Fisher. “One of my favorite moments was in the second half because we played with so much heart. Even though we didn’t win, it showed everything we’ve been through as a team.”

The Lopes’ 2020-21 season challenged them in multiple ways and forced them out of their comfort zones.

“This year brought us together more than we expected,” said Fisher. “We were a young team and players were forced to be put in roles they normally wouldn’t find themselves in. Everyone was going through something, and instead of being individualistic, the boys bonded together and decided that whatever was going on, we’ll get through it together.”

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