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Little Rock has quietly cruised to an impressive 7-0 record in USA Rugby South’s DII South division. The Stormers have won most of their games by a wide margin, racking up 80 points in each of their last two victories.
In doing so, Little Rock has clinched the division’s top seed in the USA Rugby South Quarterfinals on April 13th, where it’ll face the second seed out of the North. The Stormers haven’t added some big haul of new players this season, but they have brought in a new coach – Donna Thomas.
Thomas played representative-level rugby for the West and even made one appearance with the 7s Eagles a handful of years ago. Recently she’d been reffing, before the Stormers asked her to coach. Thomas has been involved and around the club for years, and she credits an increased work ethic for the team’s newfound success.
“The commitment level of the players is very high. My top 22 players all work out outside of practice, and they’re all just very committed to doing well,” said Thomas.
“Where in the past it was just a few guys who were committed to doing extra work outside of practice, for some reason, this year they’re all motivated and putting in the effort that’s required. It’s the same players, but they’re different goals they’re trying to achieve.”
Little Rock’s top goal, winning the National Championship, seems lofty for a club that’s not made a deep run in recent years. But the Stormers have always been a player in the South playoff picture, and massive blowouts signal this year could be theirs.
However, Thomas is concerned that Little Rock hasn’t been tested enough during the regular season.
“I’m very worried about when we do go against a team that keeps the score close, how my guys will react,” she said.
“Unfortunately, I’m not going to see that until we get to the play-or-go-home stage. So it’s a huge concern of mine, but I’m trying to keep them grounded as much as possible. I don’t know if I’ve ever told them how great they are. I always find something that’s not right.”
Leading the Stormers attack is flyhalf Patrick Mason, formerly of Arkansas State. He began his rugby career in high school in Memphis, and he’s one of a handful of former Red Wolves on the Little Rock roster. Outside Darrin Oliver is another.
“He’s phenomenal,” said Thomas of Oliver. “I think if he would actually put the time into it he would be a National Team player.”
Wing Mark Fulmer and flanker Josh Wolverton are USA Rugby South all-stars, and lock Win Noble is a rock in the second row.
“He’s just a force to be reckoned with,” said Thomas of Noble. “He’s not afraid of anything. He’s just like Superman.”
Little Rock plays its last regular season game Saturday against Baton Rouge, who the Stormers beat 67-3 last month.