The talented players and coaches behind the men’s and women’s FIU Rugby teams are a silent force to be reckoned with.
Unlike Europe and South America, where rugby is extremely popular, the sport doesn’t get as much exposure in the United States. Often confused with lacrosse, rugby is a mixture of basketball, soccer and football. It shares exciting aspects of each of those sports all combined in one.
Under the coaching leadership of alumnus Trevor Alfred, the women’s rugby team has competed in the USA College Women’s Rugby National Championships twice in the past four years—earning fourth place in the nation in 2015.
As for the men’s team, they qualified for the second year in a row for the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship thanks to the tactful foresight of head coach and military veteran Ronnie Suarez.
From May 18-20, the men’s team will represent FIU in Glendale, Colorado, as one of the top 16 teams in the nation.
“This is a huge deal for us,” says senior Federico Torres, captain of the men’s team. “We are in the middle of a golden generation.”
While the men’s team has made monumental strides toward their goal of a collegiate national championship, they have not been as successful in acquiring financial support.
Rugby is considered a club sport, which falls under the university’s wellness and recreation programs. Not having the support of FIU Athletics means the team needs to be creative about funding.
“Unfortunately, at national championships, we compete against fully funded varsity teams,” says Torres.
Currently, the men’s and women’s FIU Rugby teams depend mostly on fundraising. To lessen the financial strain, Suarez volunteers as head coach and director of the men’s and women’s FIU Rugby programs. The funds they have raised from parent donations and a $1,000 sponsorship from Inkaholics are not enough to pay for all tournament travel expenses.
In addition to qualifying for the collegiate national 7s championship, the men’s team also qualified for the collegiate nationals 15s championship. However, they could only afford to participate in one competition.
“We gave up our spot this year to UCF, and UCF advanced to the semifinals,” says Suarez who believes that with additional funds FIU Rugby will be able compete at the highest national level and reach its full potential.
“A lot of the time, it comes down to people just not knowing we’re around,” says Suarez.
The men’s team success is sparking interest within the rugby community. Suarez has been approached by students interested in attending FIU to play for the men’s team.
FIU Rugby alumnus Alberto Pisani believes it’s the perfect time to for FIU Rugby to become an established club and attract the top talent and possibly future Olympians. Together with fellow alumnus Carlos Gutierrez, Pisani is creating a rugby scholarship endowment. He hopes that with the support of other alumni, the endowment will eventually grow large enough to offer full academic scholarships to student athletes playing rugby at FIU.
“Some of my fondest FIU memories are tied to my time playing with FIU Rugby, and I want to ensure that the club remains active to afford future students the same opportunities to create lifelong bonds and cherished memories,” says Pisani.
To help shape the future of FIU Rugby, alumni and rugby supporters are encouraged to make tax-deductible contributions to the Rugby Scholarship Endowment.