By Sean Savage
A chilly Tuesday afternoon on the campus of Springfield College signaled the end of another October day for students; it also signaled the start of another men’s rugby practice.
“Our practices are like the rugby world cup final mentality. It is nuts, it’s crazy,” said senior member Alec Noe.
The sun dwindled away at Stagg Field as their practice ended. The Pride knew they were one day closer to playoffs.
According to Noe, the team had two choices:
“It is a club sport – we could either just have fun and not work for anything, or we could hold our heads high, lift trophies, and walk off the field each day knowing that we left it all out there,” he said. “And that is what we decided it is going to be.”
The Pride are led by coach Luke Salls, who has yet to concede a loss in the regular season through two years at the helm. Salls cultivated his knowledge as he was once a former player and 2021 Springfield College graduate.
“There is just a lot of knowledge and details that I can share,” Salls said.
The Pride’s attention to detail has led them to two back-to-back undefeated seasons.
“This is the hardest [working] group of players on campus,” Noe added.
However, the Pride suffered an early first-round exit to Hofstra University in last year’s playoffs, so coming into the 2022-23 season, Salls developed a new approach.
“We started from scratch all over again, and a lot of schools do not realize that,” he said.
The Pride had a very straightforward game plan last year, whereas in 2022, there is more freedom from a player’s perspective.
“We left it up to the players on how they want to run the game – there is a lot more decision making on their end.”
The team is now entering the postseason, with its first game coming on Saturday against Central Connecticut State University at 4 p.m.
“[Our mentality is to] keep doing what we are doing. Nobody has been able to keep up yet,” Salls said.
Through 130 years of club rugby at Springfield, the team feels like it has taken off in recent years. They now have a website and store open daily at any time to purchase team merchandise.
“Even in the past four years, the team has progressed so much,” Noe said. “Our Instagram is fire – we have gained like 70 followers in the past week alone.”
There have been a lot of small, incremental changes that have built Pride into the powerhouse of the team they are today.
“I want to stay at this college longer solely to play rugby and only for this team,” Noe said.
As Noe’s reign and collegiate career come to a close, along with other seniors, it is time for them to pass the torch, but keep the blaze of the rugby team alive.
One great example is sophomore Ajae Olsen. He joined the team late last season with no prior experience in the game of rugby at all.
“His attention to detail separated him. What I said, he applied – and it had a ripple effect on every player,” Salls said.
Looking ahead to the near future, the Pride hope to make a deep playoff run with their undisputed momentum.
Everyone plays with an extra edge in playoffs: “We are going to take it game-to-game,” Noe said.
There is also a chance they will have a rematch against Hofstra. If the Pride manage to prevail, they will have the chance to continue on with Nationals.
“If we can get to that point, hopefully we have the funds to fly down to Arizona to finish out the season,” Salls said.
The Pride are on the right track with no signs of slowing down – with their deep commitment to the game, they certainly have a real shot of taking it all the way.
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics