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Rugby Generates Excitement as Team Prepares to Open Season


JONESBORO — A tough schedule, a new head coach and a blend of veteran and new players will come together Saturday, Jan. 22, to kick off the 2022 rugby season at Arkansas State University. The Red Wolves will travel to Little Rock to play the Dallas Rugby Football Club, a premier Division 1 Men’s Club, in the season opener.

“I’m honestly very excited for this upcoming semester,” said Head Coach Jake Mizell who is in his first full year. “Last year I was thrown in the deep end without a lifesaver. I started midseason and had no room to prepare or build. It was the toughest challenge I’ve ever faced as a coach.”

Also, the pandemic put a serious damper on the schedule with A-State being unable to play in most of the matches. But, this season appears to be brighter.

“We’ve got a really tough schedule this year. First of all, we play in the toughest D1A rugby conference (the Mid-South) in the country. Every single program has won a national championship at some point in their past. We’re pretty much a part of rugby’s equivalent to the Southeastern Conference. Everyone in the conference is usually ranked in the top ten in the country and someone will be playing for a national championship. Also, everyone else in the conference is a part of their athletic department while Arkansas State remains an elevated club sport.”

However, Mizell had a deep recruiting season to accompany strength of his returnees. Back from last year is Craig Snyder, Evan Roode, T.J. van Rensburg and Aiden Ridgway. Snyder joined the team last spring, but didn’t get a chance to prove himself through his play due to injuries. This year he has really solidified his place in the lineup with his lineout skills and long runs. 

Van Rensburg has transitioned from his old position scrumhalf, where he made the short list for top players in the country, to flyhalf. The flyhalf is basically the quarterback of the team; he calls all the plays on attack (offense), passes the ball to the open gap, and he does a majority of the kicking. All skills that van Rensburg leads the team in that should bode well for his transition. 

Ridgway is possibly one of the most electric attacking players in the entire country. When he gets into the open field, it’s near impossible to stop him. Roode transitioned to team captain this year due to injuries to the previous captain and has stepped up in his new role. The Red Wolves’ new attacking scheme is designed around getting big bodies into the edges of the field where they can do the most damage. Mizell said Roode has really grown in this role and will look to lead the team from the front with his hard carries and big hits. He said, “If we are going to be successful this year, this group of players are going to have to produce.”

Several newcomers will contribute early including Lane Pruisner, Frank Bartorelli, Alonzo Williams and Tim Glatthaar. Pruisner is a transfer from Iowa Center Community College where he made the U.S. National U20 team as a prop. Mizell said he has done an excellent job stabilizing the scrum and putting in hard distances with big carries. Bartorelli has come in and simply outworked the entire competition. The former U20 Uruguayan national team star is a monster on defense and has a motor that just doesn’t know when to quit.”

Mizell added, “Williams, another transfer from Iowa Central CC, is another that has just made too much of an impact to ignore. He makes bone crushing hits and has added an expansiveness to his attack that really makes him stand out at this level. And, Glatthaar came from Pretoria Boys High has instantly put his mark on the backline. He is a stout defender that isn’t afraid to take on the biggest of players while also having a blue-collar work ethic to his attack. Look for these four players to not only make an impact this year but for many to come.”

Mizell noted that A-State plays some of the most expansive rugby in the country. “It’s relatable to the west coast offense in football. We like to spin the ball wide to lots of different players and put the defense on heels by always attacking the open space with our ball skills or aerial (kicking) attack. On defense, when we’re at our best we play in your face and with lots of speed. This allows the pressure to be put on the attack (offense) rather than us as a defense.”

Mizell and the players have set lofty goals and they are going to have to work harder than ever to achieve them. With this his being his first fall as the coach, the semester and practices have been huge learning opportunities.

“In rugby you really only get to work as a coach Sunday through Friday,” concluded Mizell.” Between film review and practice planning, I really only get to facilitate what happens in the game beforehand. When the whistle blows on Saturday my job is done. It’s up to the players to execute everything from calling their own plays to making adjustments on the fly. 

“Rugby is a players game, coaches are there in more of a support role rather than a chess player using pawns. This fall semester has really given me a good chance to get to know all of the returners and instill what we are trying to do moving forward as a program. We started everything from the ground up, and I really believe that we have a firm foundation that can be built upon for decades to come.”

Here is the 2022 A-State rugby schedule:

Date             Opponent                                Site                           Time

Jan. 22      Dallas RFC                             Little Rock              2 p.m.

Feb.5      Life University                             Marietta, Ga.           1 p.m.

Feb.12      Queens University of Charlotte   Nashville, Tenn.      1 p.m.

Feb. 19      Lindenwood                          JONESBORO            3 p.m.

Feb. 26      Life University                        JONESBORO            1 p.m.

March 5      Lindenwood                          St. Charles, Mo.          1 p.m.

March 12      Davenport                                JONESBORO             1 p.m.

March19      U.S. Army West Point             JONESBORO            1 p.m.

Marsh 26      Davenport                               Grand Rapids, Mich.    1 p.m.

Jake Mizell