The team – known as the MudPigs – ended the 2006 season with a fourth straight regional title after a 41-7 victory over Ohio Northern on Nov. 18. The dominating win capped an impressive 8-0 season for the team, which has posted four consecutive undefeated records. In 2006, that mark was achieved by recording victories over teams from such schools as Eastern Kentucky, Ohio State and Xavier.
The Mudpigs are coached by Steve Wade – or “Fire” as the team affectionately calls the Springfield firefighter. He returns nothing but praise for the team members.
“They’re the easiest group I’ve ever coached in my life,” Wade said. “They’re so competitive, and they know what it takes to win. They’re a joy to coach.”
Wade has coached both the men’s and women’s rugby club teams at Wittenberg for the last five years, balancing his time between the field and the firehouse. He is assisted this year by Ellen Hoepfinger, a 2005 Wittenberg graduate and team member. Wade played rugby for 12 seasons, so he has extensive knowledge of the game and knows what it takes to run a successful program.
The women’s team captains in 2006 are Cari Gronowski, class of 2007 from Avon, Ohio, and Jen Moorehead, class of 2007 from Norwich, Ohio. The team also has several freshman starters, a fact that pleases Wade.
“I don’t see a drop off between this year and next,” he said. “We have a whole other group willing to step up and play.”
The team is a member of the Ohio Rugby Union (ORU), as well as the Midwest Rugby Union – two organizations that are helping the sport grow in popularity. The NCAA has designated rugby an “emerging sport” that could earn championship event status in the near future.
“This is a time when rugby is struggling to take its next step toward to becoming a widely recognized sport in the United States,” said Kurt Weaver, president of ORU.
“[The women’s team] is already getting to the point of a varsity sport because they’re so competitive,” he said.
Wade also coaches the men’s rugby team. He said that squad, formerly coached by former Wittenberg football All-American Kenny Pope, who was a member of the university’s staff in the Office of Admission the last three years, was in a “rebuilding year” due to some untimely injuries.
The men and women practice together and are treated as one team, a strategy Wade feels is beneficial to both groups.
“The men are more physical, while the women are more tactical,” Wade said. “They make each other better in those areas. The girls wouldn’t be as good as they are without the guys.”
By: Rachel Morgan ‘08
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