Hoggies’ unforgettable rugby season

Last April the rugby team for the University of Dallas, known as the Hoggies, had their season end sooner than they would have liked – before spring break with a 1-6 record.

“It was very embarrassing,” said Matthew Kaiser, team manager. “We’d practice, invite our friends and families to the games, and we’d lose by like 40 points. Everything was extremely unorganized.

“Other schools that are bigger have fraternities or other social clubs. We don’t have Greek life here. This is the most proper form of fraternity, where it’s actually a brotherhood. This sport also has a certain kind of camaraderie that’s unlike any other sport.”

With the help of three new coaches, head coach Filip Keuppens, attack coach Dean Robinson, and defense coach Bruce McGregor, the Hoggies turned their game around and this year competed to an undefeated regular season.

“When [the new coaches] came, they brought a different team culture,” Kaiser said. “They emphasized personal ownership and positive thinking. In the past years, we’d get angry at each other for dropping the ball, but now we understand that if we make a mistake, [we need] to encourage each other to do better next time by basically analyzing ourselves.”

“All three of us used to coach the Texas Seniors Men’s All-Star Team,” Keuppens said. “Originally UD talked to Bruce. Then Bruce talked to Dean and me to get us back together again and bring positivity to this University of Dallas rugby team.”

The players worked all season with the coaches. They encouraged the players to become better men outside the game of rugby and to become better men for the game of rugby.

“Better men make better rugby players,” Keuppens said. “That translation applied rapidly within the team, and I’m very pleased with the work these boys have put in. We as the coaching staff wanted to start a positive winning culture, then focus on the fundamentals and basics of the game, and it paid off.

“Arguably with the same amount of talent from last year, it showed that they can work together to achieve a common goal. We taught them how to play for a team instead of for themselves. We took different approaches that we had and applied them to a university level.

John Houser plays the number four or five lock position, and emphasizes his drive and motivation. 

“I expected us to improve this year because of the new coaches,” Houser said. “Great coaches were what this team was missing. However, the history of this sport gives me drive and motivation when I’m out there on that field.”

Although the team did lose two games to Angelo State University in the Lone Star Conference Championship, they qualified for the National Small College Rugby Organization by beating the University of Denver on March 25, pushing their record to 16-2.

The team prepared to travel to Claremont, Calif. to play Claremont College in the PacWest Region Championship. However, because the team plays a club sport and not a varsity sport, the team faced financial hardship.

“We ran some numbers and realized that we had to get $20,000 to get everyone to California to compete,” Kaiser said. “We needed the money for food, transportation and lodging. We went to the club organization, and they said they didn’t have any budget left. It was the middle of the school year, and they didn’t expect us to make it this far.”

All the seniors and officers came together and brainstormed for two hours one night to come up with different things the team could do to raise the money.

“We ended up starting a GoFundMe page,” Kaiser said. “We started calling friends, families, alumni’s, and they started calling people they knew as well. It ended up being a ripple effect. The post got shared over 1,000 times on Facebook.”

With the help of the community, on March 27 the team was able to raise $10,000 in just 24 hours. Within the next four days, they reached their goal of $20,000.

“It blew my mind,” Kaiser said. “There were graduates who donated like $500. We had a guy donate $5. He said, ‘I love the Hoggies. I just wish I could donate more.’ Seeing that showed everyone on the team that this is real. People actually believe in us. He obviously was struggling financially but still pitched in five bucks. That was fantastic.”

On April 8, the Hoggies went up against Claremont College in the PacWest Regionals and lost 19-40.

“This loss was disappointing, but we’re still in high spirits,” Kaiser said. “This season is something we will never forget.”