The undefeated 6-0 New Mexico Tech Miners rugby team have climbed all the way up to number four in the nation in the MSMALL conference. That is number four out of more than 600 qualifying colleges in the country.
A big reason for the success is head coach Gearoid Dunbar creating a culture of excellence amongst his squad.
“It’s tough to judge at this point where this team is,” he said. “We haven’t faced any California competition yet so that’ll be a real challenge down the road. But I always like our chances and I coach these guys to believe we are the best team in the country each week.”
During practice, Dunbar insists that all players dress in official game attire. The team warms up before Dunbar cleats up himself and hits the pitch. The first thing he yells to the team is “Did you get your bleeping homework done?! If not get off the field! School is the most important thing boys!”
Formal practice begins with what is referred to as “Truck & Trailer” drills. Four rotating groups of players wield tackle bags. Attacking players practice how to avoid contact. Coach Dunbar continually reminds his players that they must keep their heads up. They are not football players.
“Nobody has helmets on boys. You are athletes!”
Next comes full contact hit and tackling drills. Players of all sizes line up and go head to head. Sean Skinner is one of the thinner players on a team full of giant men and he tackled his teammates consistently by wrapping them up at the ankles. Skinner was not afraid and stood his ground. His opponents could not get past.
The Miners team consists of veterans and newcomers. On the new side, you have players like Gabriel Belgran who has been with the team for just two months. A former football player from Roswell, N.M., this is Belgran’s first time playing the sport.
“I was at an event here and the club president Elijah told me I should come out and play,” said Belgran. “So I decided to try it and ended up really loving it. This team as opposed to other teams I’ve played with really feels like we bonded together. It’s a really great program to be a part of.”
Dane Robergs is a four-year team veteran and Tech senior. Coach Dunbar said the team will miss Robergs’s leadership after this season.
“This is the best I have ever seen this team over the years,” said Robergs. “Offensively we’ve been doing great so we’re not trying to take the ball away too much on defense which is the whole point of the game. I try to do my best in leading this team, as well as Lucas and Julian who are also graduating. We all try to lead by example on the field and I will definitely miss this crew.”
Practice ends with a pinks versus greens jersey melee. Coach Dunbar has done his job during drills and allows the players to hit the pitch, with a few adjustments.
“Students have said they can hear me yelling from the dorms,” he said. “That’s because I know how good this team is. I don’t have to go back to the basics with this group of guys and now I can push them to be better on the field. I hold a higher standard for the team at practice than I do at games because I know how good these guys and gals are.”
After a rivalry game against NMSU this weekend, the team will travel to Cal Maritime University in California on November 20. It is the PAC-WEST finals tournament. If the Miners win there, they will go to Houston to compete in the national championships in December. Currently, the Christendom Crusaders out of Virginia are ranked number one nationally in MSMALL with 289 team points. Tech is not far behind with 258 points.