The 1970’s: The Foundation and the Early Years
1992-1997 - Reviving Rugby
With the ban lifted, undergraduate student Mark Roesler decided to revive the NU rugby club. With little support from the administration and a shoestring budget, Mark proved highly persistent and successfully organized a team for the fall of 1992. Almost all of the members of the rugby team who had been active before the ban had either graduated or were playing elsewhere and did not want to go back to playing college rugby with an inexperienced team.
Consequently, the 1992 fall team was dominated by guys who had never seen rugby before. Luckily, Mark was able to find a coach for the new team. Richard Lopacki who had played at NU between 1980-1985, and had coached the MIT rugby team on the East Coast from 1985-87, had just moved back to Chicago. Lopacki managed to get Heath Gerdes to come out and help with the forwards, and Andrew Wolfe (ex-NU RFC) to help with the backs. After some well-fought defeats, the team began to improve and finally, on April 17th, 1993, NU won its first game since 1990. From then on, the program began to improve with more students joining the club and the university increasing its support.
When Richard Lopacki’s career took him to Australia in late 1993, the team was very fortunate to secure the services of Tim Moylan, a USA Level 2 coach. Tim was an ex-Chicago Lion, CARFU and Midwest senior select side player. The club continued to grow in strength and results continued to improve under Tim’s guidance. In 1994, the team changed its playing strip from purple shirts, white shorts and purple socks, to black shirts, black shorts and black socks. This fashion change was partially influenced by the NU Football team who had just introduced black into their uniforms. In 1996, Richard Lopacki returned from Australia and assisted Tim Moylan in coaching the club. 1997 saw the departure of both coaches due to work commitments, and the arrival of the current coach, Chuck Hamilton.
1998-1999 - CARFU Champions
Following a rebuilding season in the fall of 1997, the club logged an undefeated league season, capturing the CARFU title and advancing to the Midwest playoffs for the first time since 1985. NU finished in the top twelve of the Midwest tournament. The spring of 1999 saw the men’s side tour to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras tournament, and the founding of Northwestern’s women’s side. The women began with twenty interested players in the spring and grew to thirty-five by the fall of 1999. NU women are now recognized by Midwest RFU as a startup club, and will participate in league play beginning in the spring of 2000. At the same time NU Rugby gained three additional coaches: Tony McCudden, Garrett Ryan and Denise Abramson. In the fall of 1999 the men repeated as undefeated CARFU Champs and finished in the top eight in the Midwest playoffs.
2000-2007 - Touring The World
Spring of 2000 saw NU make its first overseas tour. Both the men and women fielded sides in the United Kingdom against teams from Newcastle University, Newcastle, England; Stirling University, Stirling, Scotland; and Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland. That fall, the men fell short against UIC in the finals of the CARFU Cup, losing 10-6. However, the club was not able to travel to the Midwest playoffs due to a lack of available bodies, and was summarily banned from postseason play for two years.
However, this did not stop the 'Cats from having a good spring season, playing Michigan State on their home turf and regaining the Northside Cup against Loyola. The fall season of '01 was a rebuilding period, with a lot of new faces and several key injuries. In the spring of '02, the 'Cats underwent their second overseas tour, to Barcelona, Andorra, and France.
The fall season of 2002 marked another step in the rebuilding process, as the 'Cats finished third in CARFU with a strong showing at the Cup, and showed significant progress in the development and recruitment of younger players. During this time, the inaugural Homecoming Alumni Tailgate was established, and this year will mark the Third Annual Tailgate. What started out as 4-6 guys finishing off a keg in the parking lot has seen significant improvement.
The year and a half following fall of 2002 proved to be a struggle, with wins coming few and far between, and a corresponding downturn of player morale. The rate of player attrition was high. The low point during this period may have been the failure to mobilize enough enthusiasm for a third semi-annual overseas tour, in early 2004. At this point, a new emphasis was placed on team unity, and the fruits of this labor are beginning to show. A significant core of individuals have committed themselves to improvement of Northwestern Rugby through various groundbreaking initiatives (Intra-Campus Sevens Tournament for recruiting, team sponsorship by a local establishment, and renewed committment to winning through hard work). We are confident in our ability to build this team up to its former glory.
In the fall of 2007, a strong incoming sophomore class lead by captain Matt Boucher came back to bring Northwestern to its former glory. Starting the fall season with a nailbiter win versus CARFU powerhouse Loyola Chicago, Northwestern Rugby completed an undefeated season in league play and advanced to the Midwest tournament for the first time since 1999. Such a season proved to be timely, letting veteran hooker Joe Antoinelli make it to the playoffs during his dedicated five seasons with Northwestern Rugby. During this time period, Antoinelli helped keep the team alive by being president, schedule manager, and treasurer for the team at the same time.
2007- Present Day - Continued Success
Since 2007, NU Rugby has been dominant in the Chicago area, winning the CARFU championship again in 2009. After struggling financially and as a team, in 2011, Northwestern Rugby joined the newly formed DII Wisconsin-Illinois conference, in accordance with the new USA Rugby alignment. A promising future was on the horizon. However, the 2011-'12 and '12-'13 seasons were viewed as rebuilding years, by Northwestern Rugby standards. Consisting of almost all freshmen and sophomore players, the team went 3-1-3 in the 2013 Spring season, showing strong improvement. The upcoming season promises to be both a mysterious and successful one, with most younger players returning, hungry for a WIIL conference playoff berth.