The Wabash rugby squad had an excellent outing on Saturday, November 4, walking away from Frank Navarro Field with the Monon Keg after defeating DePauw 20-5 and beating Taylor University to capture the Allegheny Rugby Union Conference Championship Developmental 7’s win. In the past, these feats may have come as a surprise to Wabash fans, but Matthew Brooks ’24 and Co. have winning as their expectation every time they step on the field.
After last year’s stellar campaign, seeing Wabash place third at the National Collegiate Rugby Championships, there was speculation that losing the likes of Brayden Goodnight ’23, Isaac Salinas ’23 and the rest of the senior cohort would find a depleted and underperforming rugby team battling it out during this fall season.
But Brooks, along with cabinet members Derek Miller ’24 and Tanner Quackenbush ’26 have kept the Little Giants fit and fast, blitzing past almost every opponent with consummate ease. With their record at 7-1, Wabash rugby has much to be proud of.
“It’s nice [to keep winning],” said Brooks. “Even with half of our team being new, the fact that we’re still competing at a strong level is super refreshing.”
One of the only other seniors on the team, Lucas Budler ’24 has played his fair share of rugby for Wabash as well. Hailing from South Africa, where rugby is almost more religion than sport, Budler doesn’t take a single second of his last season for granted.
“The [Wabash rugby] program took huge steps last year with the seniors that we had,” said Budler. “I know Brooks and I are grateful to them for the work they did.
We’re lucky to continue to add and grow the program.”
For over half of the team, November 4 was their first Monon Keg clash. A parallel with football’s Monon Bell Classic, the Keg has stood as the trophy between Wabash and DePauw rugby for over 30 years.
“It was nice to play one last Keg Game with a lot of freshmen to show them the intensity [of the game],” said Budler. “To be here and exhibit how the Keg Game works before we hand over the reins to a huge number of fresh- men and sophomores was really special.”
The Keg Game started with a bang, as Budler scored from over 50 yards out on a breakaway run, splitting DePauw defenders like the Red Sea. Budler unfortunately missed the dropkick after the first miss of three on the day. Nate Powell ’27 followed up Budler’s scamper with one of his own, taking the ball out of the ruck for another Wabash try. Brooks then bulldozed his way from 10 yards out in the second half, carrying four DePauw defenders into the try zone. With the score 15-0, DePauw scored their one and only try from a defensive breakdown after a ruck by Wabash. Isaac Gaytan-Reilly ’26 scored a try in the final seconds of regulation after catching an immaculate assist from Budler, sealing the win 20-5 for Wabash.
Retaining the Keg yet again is a source of pride for every Wabash rugby player, young or old. And the younger generation understands that the level of play cannot retract, even for a semester.
“Brooks has done a great job leading this team so far,” said Powell. “He’s done a great job including people, especially since we are a younger team that retired a lot of seniors. There’s been no other choice but for people to step up.”
With Wabash’s fall season closed after the Keg Game, the Little Giants will begin their offseason winter training to prepare for the ARU’s spring 2024 season. Their hopes lie with a return berth to the NCR National Championships, but also with the fantastic memories made along the way.
“I don’t think about individual tries or assists, really,” said Budler. “ You don’t remember those. But rather [you remember] the environment that we were able to build over the past two, three years of rugby and how Wabash has learned [about] a game where the ball is thrown backwards.”