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Central Washington has blazed a trail for traditional college club rugby teams for years, finding ways to compete at the highest level without varsity status, scholarships or paid coaching. The Wildcats displayed the professionalism, organization and competitiveness of their better-funded counterparts, showing other club programs with high aspirations how its done.
This season, CWU embarks on its first as a varsity program, and the Wildcats are still blazing a trail. Unlike the vast majority of the other varsity or quasi-varsity schools around the country, CWU is a public university. Life, Davenport, Lindenwood, Wheeling Jesuit, Notre Dame College, Spring Hill, AIC, etc. are all small private institutions. CWU also managed to make the transition from a functioning student-led club to varsity status, while the aforementioned were all started by their universities’ administration as funded programs.
The change isn’t in name only, as it’s seen head coach Tony Pacheco go from being a volunteer coach to a full-time member of the athletic department and opened many other doors on campus.
“All those things you had to raise money for or create or do yourself are now available to you. Just much more resources. That’s massive,” said Pacheco.
“For us, I think it was really needed for us to move forward. We’d almost kind of hit the ceiling based on what our resources were and what we had. This was kind of a logical move for us if the program was going to continue to improve and get better.”
Since joining the Varsity Cup in 2013, the Wildcats have been the best team in the competition not named Cal or BYU. In their first year, they reached the semifinals by beating three-time National Champion Air Force, but fell short against eventual champions BYU in the semifinal. In 2014, they beat Utah in the quarterfinals and lost to Cal in the semis.
So the Wildcats boast a .500 record in the Varsity Cup, which is pretty good, but the varsity move might help them get over the semifinal hump and into the title game sooner than later, just as the Varsity Cup’s partnership with NBC factored into the school’s decision to make rugby varsity.
“I think the success we’d had on the field, the administration really appreciated that, and they liked that, and then the Varsity Cup thing happened, and the NBC partnership with the Varsity Cup, that was a major factor for sure. It’s just as big as many of all the other factors. They all just came together,” said Pacheco.
“If we were ever going to get to that point where we were going to knock of a Cal or a BYU, we kind of had to make this move and keep moving forward. Now we’re going to get better and continue to get better athletes and give them the things they need to be successful so we can go win a Varsity Cup.”
With USA Rugby’s 7s National Championships being moved to the spring, Central Washington will play a little less 7s this fall, though they have their sights set on winning the Battle in the Bay, and a little more developmental 15s in preparation for a run at a title in the spring.