Bearkat Clubs Shine In Spring Semester
July 8, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Campbell Atkins
Sam Houston State University’s club sports program can boast three national titles from the spring semester after a difficult couple of years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic severely impacted play in recent years and forced several coaches and captains to go back to the drawing board, SHSU’s men’s rugby, quidditch and powerlifting squads shined their brightest in 2022.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the communities these teams help build, that’s where a lot of the success stems from,” John Merryman, SHSU’s Assistant Director for Club Sports and Esports, said. “With COVID the last couple of years, a lot of these teams really had to rebuild from the programs they had previously with a lot of new faces and few returners. Them being able to lead those teams, unite all the young people and bring them up to the skill level and training they need really goes to show how much of a community these teams build. That is what we aspire to as a program.”
SHSU’s men’s rugby squad earned a spot in the Collegiate Rugby Championships (CRC), a round robin invitational in New Orleans at the end of May. The Bearkats seized Division-I Club National Sevens Championship for their efforts against some of the toughest opponents in the nation.
SHSU’s quidditch team, meanwhile, brought magic to life with their division II national championship in April, continuing a long string of success for the program.
Bearkat powerlifter Karina Macias, meanwhile, earned the Women’s 90kg Equipped Individual Championship for her efforts in Chicago in March.
Entering the CRCs in New Orleans in May, the Sam Houston State rugby program had never won a game in a national tournament. By the end of the week, they would boast six national wins as well as the school’s first ever title.
But the road to the winner’s circle was long and arduous and included a learning experience for the Bearkats during their first national tournament in Atlanta in the prior weeks. With a different roster than the one they would ultimately use in New Orleans, the Bearkats were unable to win a game and lost the services of former team captain Kyle Stokley, who tore his MCL in Atlanta.
“While that was happening on the field, it was brought up to us by coaches and teammates that we were not really moving as a unit off the field,” said sophomore player Matthew Alvarez.
The Bearkats would field an “Iron Man” team in New Orleans, which features just 10 players on the roster (seven starters with three reserves). They were led by head coach Luke Nenes and assistant coach Ramon Serrano. Senior (now graduated) George Newbold was the team’s captain during their championship matchup.
“These other teams had experience,” Alvarez said. “In the CRCs, we understood going in that we didn’t have many reserves. Other teams had 15-20 players on their rosters while we only had 10.”
SHSU was able to compensate for these disadvantages thanks to players like Lane O’Brien, who played the entire tournament without a single break, as well as Garrett Ros. Alvarez described O’Brien as the team’s “workhorse” in their seven tournament matchups. He described Ros as a “heavy wrecking ball”, who surprised opponents with his speed.
The Bearkats competed in three matchups to open the round robin-style tournament May 28, winning them all. SHSU defeated SUNY Plattsburgh (22-15), University of Massachusetts (31-7) and Tulane (38-0) before advancing to day two and defeating Purdue (40-0) and the University of Connecticut (31-26). After playing five games in two days, SHSU fell to Salisbury (Maryland) 24-17 to conclude the round robin portion of the CRCs. Their 5-1 record was still good enough to advance to a rematch against Salisbury in the championship May 30.
The Bearkats took what they learned from their one loss and used it to become champions with a 17-15 victory over Salisbury. Junior Etienne Tenie scored two of the team’s tries, including a kickoff return that gave the Bearkats the lead for good. He would go on to be named the tournament’s MVP.
Both teams scored three tries each in the championship game, but Salisbury missed all their post-try kicks, leaving their final score at 15. O’Brien, who was responsible for SHSU’s second try, converted on the kick after to give the Bearkats two points. These two points would prove to be the difference in the game.
“I scored off of a scrum,” O’Brien said. “I went weakside and just booked it and the kick went straight through.”
“The whole game was a fight back-and-forth,” Ros said. “It was a team effort the whole time.”
Junior Nathaniel Wright was able to make two try-saving tackles down the stretch and the Bearkat offense killed the final two-and-a-half minutes to ensure the championship. The same seven players competed in the entire game and were never subbed out.
In the aftermath of the title, the team’s players and leaders cannot help but think back to teamwork and the role it played down the stretch of their memorable run.
“Stepping back and realizing that we are national champions and looking at what we had done, the best part of that feeling was knowing that we did it all together and bought into what our coach wanted,” Ros said. “We had been preaching that all year, it just took a second because we were a young team. But we completely bought in.”
“It hit me while we were driving home that we are meant to be with this high level of competition and that it was not a fluke,” O’Brien said. “If we put our minds to it, SHSU is well worthy of being in these high-level, high-impact competitions.”
The complete championship roster consisted of Matthew Alvarez (sophomore), Jerrod Hicks (senior), Nathaniel Wright (junior), Garrett Ros (sophomore), Rudy Rangel III (Senior), George Newbold (senior), Tremel Christian II (sophomore), Gavin Sanchez (junior), Etienne Tenie (junior) and Lane O’Brien (freshman).
A number of muggle-born Bearkats compete in a special take on the most popular sport in the Wizarding World and rode their broomsticks all the way to a Division II title in April. Much of the team was new to the quidditch pitch, with all but six of the roster spots comprised of rookies.
While the SHSU quidditch squad is no stranger to success since their 2011 inception, securing a national title in 2013 and qualifying for nationals in each of the last three seasons, they have not been able to see their work come to fruition due to outside factors. Whether it was due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other off-field issues, the Bearkats were unable to compete in any of the last three national tournaments they qualified for.
In fact, due to COVID, April’s national tournament was the first of its kind since 2019.
A quidditch team is made up of seven athletes who always play with brooms between their legs. Three chasers score goals worth 10 points each with a volleyball called the quaffle. They advance the ball down the field by running with it, passing it to teammates, or kicking it. Each team has a keeper who defends the goal hoops. Two beaters use dodgeballs called bludgers to disrupt the flow of the game by “knocking out” other players. Any player hit by a bludger is out of play until they touch their own goals. Each team also has a seeker who tries to catch the snitch. The snitch is a ball attached to the waistband of the snitch runner, a neutral athlete in a yellow uniform who uses any means to avoid capture, and who is released at the 20-minute mark. The snitch is worth 35 points. There is also a point cap of + 70 added to the leading score at 20 minutes and either team reaching that score ends the game.
SHSU traveled to Lake Charles Feb. 19-20 to compete for a nationals bid at the Southwest Regionals Championship. The Bearkats were the third and final team to qualify from the event behind UT and UTSA. All three teams were just two goals apart.
After UTSA’s Alamo Cup in March, at which they placed third, SHSU readied for the U.S. Quidditch Cup in Salt Lake City April. Despite dropping their first two tight matches to UCLA and Michigan on day one, the Bearkats were able to qualify for day two with a decisive 225-120 win over Brandeis (Massachusetts).
“Since we beat Brandeis by so much, our point differential was positive and we got to keep playing the second day,” Kubena said.
The Bearkats kept it rolling on day two with decisive wins over UNC (165-90) and Pittsburgh (170-50) to advance to the title game.
“Our game against Pittsburgh was the best we have ever played,” Kubena said. “Early on in the game I tackled one of their players and he got in my face, this fueled the fire for us to play well. Our entire team had one another’s backs, and we were playing for each other.”
SHSU took the title match with a 160-130 victory over the University of Missouri to conclude the action in Salt Lake City and secure the school’s second national title in quidditch. Co-captain Chris Dorsey caught the golden snitch to secure victory in five of their six contests.
Along with Kubena, who played chaser and keeper, the team’s roster consisted of Alex Kinsel (beater), Ashton Butler (keeper), Bethany Franklin (chaser), Chase Contreras (chaser), Chris Dorsey (keeper, seeker, chaser, beater), Conner Mason (beater), Hayden Boyes (chaser), Joan Alexander (beater, beater captain), Jonathon Laurel (chaser), Jose Reyes (chaser), Kitvin Lehman (beater), Kyle Easter (beater), Maddie Kyle (chaser), Mallory Hughes (chaser), Michael Rios (chaser), Mitchell Bauer (keeper, chaser), Nathan Wilkinson (chaser), Sarah Stewart (keeper, chaser) and Wyatt Fredrickson (chaser, seeker).
Karina Macias of the SHSU powerlifting team secured an individual national championship for her work in the Women’s 90kg Equipped category at the national competition in Chicago in March. The title spelled poetic justice for Macias after she was unable to compete in her high school championships her senior year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite being first in the state of Texas.
“It felt really good,” Macias said on her championship feat in Chicago, which she qualified for after a meet at UTSA. “It was nerve racking because it had been a while. I missed out on a lot of things my senior year, so to have that back really helped a lot mentally.”
Macias first began her powerlifting career as a sophomore in high school after transitioning from the basketball court.
“It was just something I wanted to try, and I ended up enjoying it,” Macias said.
She was also extremely successful. Macias qualified for regionals as well as state in her sophomore and junior years of high school before her breakout senior year, which propelled her to the top of the state rankings before the highest competitions were nixed due to COVID.
“I stopped lifting when I went to Sam for almost two years,” Macias said. “The coaches had asked some of my old teammates who were lifting for Sam if they could get in contact with me. I showed up to the first day of practice really scared, but everyone was welcoming. They helped me get back on my feet and start powerlifting again.”
The SHSU powerlifting squad, which consists of about 30-40 individuals, trains as a team but also work at their own individual pace on squats, bench press and deadlifting. During the meets, individual lifters will have three attempts on each lift. At the end of the event, they add up all of the weight lifted, and the highest attempt goes toward your team score. Individuals are judged separately and placed based on their performances.
Macias was not the only Bearkat to qualify for the national event in Chicago, but was the lone lifter to walk away with a top placement. Top qualifiers from all over the nation competed in the event.
“It was actually a very nerve-racking experience,” Macias said. “While we were training, I was having trouble with my squats. I was getting in my head the whole flight there, but when we got there, I started to feel better. Warming up before the event, everything else went away and I was only focused on me. I knew what I needed to do, and I did it. Coach Michael Hafenbrack and the whole team were very encouraging.”
Other SHSU powerlifters to qualify for the national meet in Chicago included Alejandro Barba, David Trevino, Tristan Bigler, Jesus Rosillo III, Bailee Boyett, Shayna Garrett, Lauryn Sanchez, Kevin Cervantes, Kyrill Orellana, William Hathaway, Charles Hammonds Jr., Hadyn McIntyre, Chancellor Buford, Kailey Payne, Dominique Delarosa, Jasmine Crocks, Cameron Hernandez, Adalia McDowell, Kamren Moore, Jenica Flores and Trevor Wilson.
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