Penn rugby rolls to nationals

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On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, rugby teams from across the Midwest came to Elkhart for the Midwest Rugby Championship.

But by the end of the day, it was a familiar scene - Penn celebrating another title - as the Kingsmen overcame a 12-0 deficit to beat the Cathedral Royal Irish and win the Midwest Rugby Championship.

"You can't describe it right now," Penn senior Brandon Thomas said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. A lot of us have been playing since middle school so it's like a family and I wouldn't want to do it with any other group of guys."

"It feels real great," Kingsmen senior Johnny Ho said. "We've been playing together since the 7th grade and to build up to this moment right here."

Penn has won 10 Midwest titles over the last 15 years, and has qualified for national 20 times out of the last 21 years.

"we've built a program, not a team," Penn rugby coach Bart Bottorff said. "A team does it once in awhile, a program does it consistently, and we are consistently one of the top five teams in the country every year because of the values and the structure that we put in with the boys and what we expect from them."

Coach may chalk it up to values, but for the players, the success is all about love.

"Just the brotherhood," Ho said. "We've been playing together forever, so no one has the chemistry like us. No one has the work ethic like us. We do the stuff right, we do the simple things right, and we do it all the time."

"We just hang out in and out of school," Kingsmen senior Trenton Horvath said. "After games, before practices, we just love each other. There's just something about us. We're just a big brotherhood."

Even with all the success, rugby is still classified as a club sport at Penn. Anyone can play, but it takes a certain type of person who actually will.

"To tell you the truth, it wasn't the first thing on mind out of high school," Thomas said. "My brother and my family talked me into it, and it was a rocky ride, but eventually it all came together."

"It's about giving back to the game that I loved and found in college," Bottorff said. "It's about giving young men something to do and something to aspire to, and frankly I always tell them I think rugby is like life - it gets very difficult at times, and when things get difficult is when you have to work harder."

Those that do come out for the team though, often end up having great success. According to the team's website, 65% of players continue playing rugby after they have left Penn, and many have gone on to earn rugby scholarships in college. Some have even played for the U.S. national team.

If you ask coach, don't be surprised if today's Kingsmen are the next ones starring on the international stage.

"Rugby is a fast and upcoming sport," Bottorff said. "It's something that's been around for hundreds of years, but USA is finally getting it, and these boys are going to be the guys that play for their country sometime soon. Keep an eye on them."

Penn will compete at nationals in Salt Lake City beginning Thursday, May 16th.