The New Mexico Tech Men’s Rugby Club faced off with the Albuquerque Aardvarks on Saturday, Oct. 1, scoring 40 points to their opponent’s 26 points in a spirited match. The last-minute matchup was assembled after the Miners’ scheduled opposition, Claremont College, was unable to make the trek from Southern California.
According to team advisor Taylor Dotson, men’s teams have been a perennial feature of New Mexico Tech’s fall and spring rugby team seasons, given the large distances between college competitions.
“Fortunately, the neighboring men’s club was willing to fill in for the Division II college team,” he said. “The switch in opposition did not mean things would be any easier for the Miners, as men’s teams typically are stocked with larger, older and more experienced players, but they rose to the challenge.”
The match featured a number of firsts for the fall 2022 season, notably that the Aardvarks were the first to score through their winger Cheslin Kolbe after a grueling opening 11 minutes where neither team appeared to have the advantage. This marked the first time that the New Mexico Tech team found themselves behind in the score line, but it wasn’t to last.
Scrumhalf and New Mexico Tech Rugby Club President Elijah Naranjo recognized and took advantage of the Aardvarks’ failure to organize their defense quickly enough after penalties. Naranjo ran several times to drive the Miners’ offense deep into the opposition helped. Then, working the ball through a number of phases, sophomore Gabe Beltran stormed his way into the try zone for the Miners’ first score (converted by teammate Milaan Van Wyk). This first score opened the floodgates, with three additional New Mexico Tech tries coming in the first half. An individual effort from Van Wyk followed only four minutes later.
According to Dotson, even the far more massive Albuquerque Aardvarks players found the Namibia native too difficult to tackle successfully, as Van Wyk weaved and bobbed through a broken defensive line.
After another nine minutes of play, senior hooker and forwards captain Niko Crosato sidestepped a drifting Aardvark defense to dot one down of his own much to the delight of his Australian relatives who drove down from Denver to attend the match.
Sophomore inside center Nick Hutt finished off the first half with yet another try. Van Wyk’s conversions were all successful, putting the score at 28-5 after 40 minutes of play.
But it would prove to be a tale of two halves as the Albuquerque Aardvarks sought to out-muscle their college-aged competition in the second 40 minutes. They targeted the ruck area, relentlessly sending players into jackal or counter-ruck, earning themselves a number of turnovers and penalties. Although they outscored the Miners in the second half three tries to two, the Aardvarks still pulled up short. Second half tries came from Hunter Graham, brother to New Mexico Tech alum Tanner Graham, and Sebastian Chabal.
The miners answered with two of their own tries. Van Wyk himself earned a brace, again finding even a half-gap in the Aardvarks backline enough to work with. Sophomore second rower Asher Woelfel turned up incredibly lucky when an errant Aardvark pass landed right at his feet with 30 meters of open field ahead of him. He scooped the ball up and raced in for a five pointer. Van Wyk’s conversions continued to be on target except one that he was forced to take quickly after the wind blew the ball off the tee.
“While there remains work to do around the ruck, the young men of Socorro showed incredible nerves in their victory,” Dotson said. “Their tackling was aggressive and, aside from the usual standout individual efforts from Van Wyk and Naranjo, most scores were genuine team tries.”
Dotson reported that hard runs came from front row pair Beltran and Joe Gallegos, along with No. 8 Jaime Terrazas. Second rowers Woelfel and Tyler Ortiz were solid in the line out and in the scrum. Freshman winger David Vaquera made considerable meters for the team, and Nick Hutt’s performance put him in contention for man of the match.