The New Mexico Tech campus is essentially devoid of students at the moment.
Except, that is, for a handful of lonely rugby players who remain in training, trying to add another national championship banner.
The Miners last month already won the American College Rugby National Championships for 15s, referring to the number of players per team.
Now they’re shooting for the small-school College Rugby Championships for 7s this weekend in New Orleans, which includes 110 teams in the three divisions.
“So it’s a pretty big tournament,” said coach Gearoid Dunbar, adding that 7s rugby is now an Olympic sport.
The division is for schools with less than 4,500 male students. New Mexico Tech has a male student population of less than 900.
“It’s our second time at this tournament, but the first time actually playing in our division,” Dunbar said. “The last time we were playing against DI and DII teams.”
The tournament opens with bracket play and the Miners will face Colby College out of Maine, Oregon Institute of Technology and Susquahanna University from Pennsylvania.
The winners of the bracket then face off in single-elimination matches.
Unlike the 15s, in which games are 80-minutes slugfests, the 7s are 14-minute sprints played on the same size field.
“So you have all forwards, all the big guys are gone,” Dunbar said. “It’s all your faster players, so it’s more like a track meet.”
Since the games are so short, “if you make a mistake, it will cost you an entire game,” he said. “You don’t need to know as many rules. Just have to catch and go.”
The smaller-sided games have become popular in the U.S., as well as emerging countries, Dunbar said, because it’s easier and cheaper to build a program. Additionally, with its placement in the Olympics, it is getting a higher profile.
“They’re really two different games,” he said. “Instead of building and looking for contact, you’re looking for space. For the backs, it’s a lot more running, a lot less breaks and kicking becomes more important.”
As for expectations, Dunbar said he’s looking for nothing less than a long tournament run because that is what has come to be expected out of the Miners.
“Our 7s team is already well known,” he said. “Before we won the 15s, everybody was talking about our 7s. Tech can no longer go to any tournament without everybody knowing about us.”
While it is nice having that reputation, it also can be a bit frustrating in tournaments like this, Dunbar said.
“Some of schools we’re playing against, I can’t find any footage on them,” he said. “But all of our stuff is online. That’s one of our big disadvantages. Because of the level we play at, it’s very easy to find information on us.”
In the long run, however, that doesn’t make that much of a difference, Dunbar said, except to perhaps intimidate Tech’s opponents.
“Our whole thing is, let them look and see what they’re getting themselves into,” he said. “We’ll play you, whoever you are. We don’t mind. It’s up to them to keep to our standards. The way I coach and the way we play with distance and space, we determine how physical it’s going to be, how fast it’s going to be. It’s up to the other team to keep up with us.”
For the players, it’s been complete focus on the task at hand.
“Everybody on campus is gone except the rugby players,” Dunbar said. “We’ve kept here since school ended and the school put them up in the dorms. We’ve been having two a day practices. Practice in morning, then go stretch and go to the pool, then practice in the evening, Guys have been living together, eating together and training not-stop together.”