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UMW has fostered some strong working relationships with pro teams overseas and in the USA, and the program has a solid recruiting class coming in for 2017. But there's more to the Mothers' potential as a breakout team than just that -- it's about the players' buy-in. The team has all 52 athletes participating in summer workouts and will have 50 players showing up to camp in mid-August. Of those, 48 have prior rugby experience either at the high school level or with UMW at the DI level.
According to UMW director of rugby Tim Brown, there are a few reasons for the team's bright outlook.
"First of all, it is the level of competition," Brown said. "We are only as good as the last game we play and the kids embrace that. We finished fourth out of nine teams last year, and if you look at the five teams that finished below us, you have former DII national champions who have historically beaten us and former ACRL schools with enrollments eight times our size.
"The top four in our conference last year all have to be looking over their shoulders. All of us want to improve so our kids know it will be a fight week to week."
Brown said the older players have embraced the team culture, and that is centered around lots of internal competition and setting the bar high.
"We have 15 students coming in as freshmen who could challenge for starting roles in the next two years," Brown said. "And we have returning players who want more time on the field. We have kids like senior Terence McPhillips and junior Andrew Lamarca who were all-conference last year, clearly guys who are players any team would want, that have embraced the new guys and welcomed them onto campus knowing they will pressure them the remainder of their time here to get on the field.
"Part of the culture is commitment to fitness, and coach Min Chae and strength and conditioning guru Tyler Stevens have set the bar high -- the physical transformation of our guys is simply amazing over the last 18 months."
And when former school president Richard Hurley touted the program and stated publicly he wanted to make UMW one of the top teams on the East Coast, you kind of got the feeling things are good on campus. After establishing links with Leicester Tigers in the Premiership, Connacht Rugby in the Pro 14, the Austin Huns, and NOVA men's club, Mary Washington is looking to change how a college rugby program is built.
"We want our guys with top-level men's clubs in Ireland, New York City, and Austin showing what they can do on at the very least the men's DI level, hopefully professionalism," Brown said.
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