Men’s rugby kicks off spring season with wins


Contributed from: WSU Men's Rugby Club

Team captain Gage Larsen prepares to roll the ball into the scrum.

Parker Buth

The Winona State Men’s Rugby Club began their 2023 spring season in a winning fashion, beating teams from Bemidji State and Macalester College, March 25 at their home field.  

While the team’s fall schedule keeps players busy most weekends, spring rugby gives players an opportunity to stay connected, fine tune their skills and recruit new members.  

During the fall season, the team plays full matches with 15 players on their field, the games lasting 80 minutes. In the spring, they play ‘Sevens’ –a faster game– and usually more high scoring. The spring schedule is usually a bit lighter than fall-ball. 

On Saturday, the Men’s Rugby Club hosted two teams from Bemidji and a third team from Macalester College, playing each in a round-robin style tourney. The Winona State Doggs came out strong on Saturday and won all three of their matches. The teams met and played at the club’s home field on the grounds of Southeast Technical College.  

Scoring for Winona was led by Logan Stewart, Bernard Barutwanayo, Gage Larsen and Ethan Gregory. Winona beat their opponents by a combined point total of 79 to 26.  

Rugby is played on hundreds of college campuses across the United States and has been played in Winona since 1989, when the Men’s Rugby Club was started. Winona Rugby has a winning tradition since as recently as 2015, the Men’s Club was ranked in the Top 15 of National DII programs.  

The program has a rich history. The team’s alumni will return to Winona next spring for the 35th anniversary of the club. The “Doggs” compete against other clubs across Minnesota, playing games in Wisconsin and the Dakotas as well. 

Rob Thoreson, a Winona resident and former player, is helping coach the current club. He is also an adjunct professor teaching a one credit course on Rugby, to Winona State students who want to learn more about the game.  

“The game can look a little chaotic to someone watching it for the first time, but it’s pretty simple to understand, once you know the basics,” Thoreson explained.  

During the pandemic, the Men’s Rugby Club struggled to recruit new players.  

“In the past 18 months, we had a lot of veteran players graduate,” Parker Buth, Men’s Rugby Club president, explained. “We are in a rebuilding mode right now, trying to raise awareness about the game and the club and get some new guys out.”  

“Rugby is an awesome team sport, this club brings people together and helps to build lifelong friendships,” Thoreson said. “If you have been an athlete in the past and want to get back into a fast-paced, high scoring and physical game, rugby may be the right fit for you.” 

A distinguishing feature of rugby, when compared to American football, is that rugby players do not wear protective helmets or pads. While many assume the game produces many injuries, the rugby-style tackle requires a player to keep their head out of the tackle, bringing their opponent to ground with a shoulder tackle and full arms wrap.  

“In the interest of player safety, a rugby style tackle is being introduced in football,” Thoreson explained. “Are there injuries…sure….but the collisions are not the same as what you see when two guys are covered in [football] armor.” 

The club’s home game schedule is posted on their Facebook (Winona State Men’s Rugby Club), and spectators are welcome to come out to cheer the Doggs on. Students interested in learning more about rugby and the Winona State Men’s Rugby Club can contact Team Coordinator Ethan Gregory at [email protected].