Triumph through tragedy

by Conner Anderson

On the surface, the Sewanee Rugby team’s ascension to Division Three dominance seems the byproduct of a hard-nosed mentality and an unrelenting work ethic. Beneath this facade of athletic prowess, however, there lies something far more significant than, yet pivotal to, the team’s success.

In 2010, Sewanee Rugby was under the guidance of Coach Brian Stringer, a rugby legend in the South who had also played the sport professionally overseas. Beloved by the University, as well as by much of the rugby world, he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. As he fearlessly battled his illness, the team continued to play and rally around his cause.

The results of Coach Stringer’s inspirational fight proved to be athletically empowering, initiating an impressive legacy that continues to this day. While ‘Coachie,’ Stringer’s nickname, underwent therapy, the team underwent a complete transformation. Mediocre in years prior, the squad finished the 2010 season undefeated, a feat dedicated to their Coach. Later that year, on a sad day for Sewanee athletics, Stringer passed away. Though gone in person, his presence still surrounds the rugby team, evident in every win since his fateful passing.

And the wins have not stopped. With four straight undefeated seasons now completed (23-0-1), Sewanee stands as one of the most dominant rugby forces in the South. This dominance is not the compilation of gut wrenching victories: it’s the product of complete superiority. They have gone 5-0 this year, outscoring opponents by an astounding 211-49. The team’s only real threat came against Lee University, one of the few opponents able to challenge Sewanee’s rugby skill. Down 11-8 at the half, the team faced the dissolution of their streak. In characteristically composed fashion, however, Sewanee scored twelve unanswered points and remained stout on four goal line stands, pulling out a huge 20-18 victory.

Though undeniably successful, the team has also faced its share of adversity. Injuries and yellow cards, inextricable components of the physical sport, have figured somewhat prominently into the season. Hunter Findley (C’14) credits the ability to persevere through this adversity to strong leadership. Findley asserted, “We have to give credit to our captains this season. They kept the team motivated and made pivotal decisions when we had a few players injured.” Team Captain Will Oberle (C’13) and Team President Frank Hand (C’13) serve as these stabilizing leaders through their organizational level-headedness, but also through their performance. Oberle accumulated 9 tries for a total of 45 points on the season, while Hand added 6 tries for 30 points. Cedric Djikegoue (C’14), another key player, finished with 39 points.

With the regular season over, the rugby squad now heads into the Dixie League playoffs. There they will attempt to win the Stringer Cup, a trophy named after the team’s influential coach. Grounded in the prospect of reclaiming that which is rightfully Sewanee, the team will undoubtedly run full speed into the tournament, attempting to win the Cup. Brian Stringer laid the foundations for Sewanee’s rugby success; its only fitting that ‘Coachie’s’ trophy find its home back up on the Mountain.

On Feb. 23, the Tigers won their fourth Stringer Cup. Now they will compete for the national championship.