Local rugby team makes championships While the Pacers are making their way through the NBA playoffs, another Indianapolis sports club has more quietly joined the national elite. The Indianapolis Impalas Rugby Football Club will travel to Rhode Island May 15 and 16 to play in the Division II National Sweet 16. The Indianapolis Impalas gather together in a scrum during a recent rugby game. The Impalas have advanced to the national championships in Rhode Island. Indianapolis qualified for the national championships by winning three consecutive games in Midwest qualifiers, subduing Wisconsin, Chicago Blaze and the Northwest Woodsmen, before losing to Minneapolis, 18-13, in the Midwest finals. The Impalas go to Rhode Island as the Midwest No. 2 seed. This is the first time the Impalas have reached the national championships, overcoming numerous obstacles on the way. In early April, they lost their head coach and acrimony at practice threatened to unravel a team loaded with talent. But calmer heads prevailed and a few beers together after practice brought the individuals back together into a team for two weekends in Chicago. “The past three years we lost in the Midwest quarterfinals,” says outside center Nico Squadroni. “This year we finally broke through against the [Chicago] Blaze. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.” They clinched their spot in the national championships by beating the Northwest Woodsmen by the score of 15-10 on May 1. Inside center Terry MacMillan, a 17-year veteran, was a standout defensively, holding back the Woodsmen when the Impalas were short-handed, as outside center Carson Mouser spent 10 minutes in the “sin bin” for a penalty. “This is my swan song,” admits MacMillan, who is playing his final year of competitive rugby. “And I want to go out strong.” Since rugby is played with 15 men, no team can make it to the national championships without strong players at every position. “Making it this far as a team means more than any individual effort,” says Tete Clark, one of many team members who routinely run over opponents rather than around them. “We’ve pulled together for the playoffs and finally accomplished our goal.” “The strength of this team is the diversity of athletes; every man has his own style,” Squadroni adds. The team also boasts a diversity of nationalities, fielding players from Zimbabwe, Tonga, New Zealand, Canada and England. While the Pacers fly to games in a private jet and stay in first-class hotels, the Impalas are used to a humbler lifestyle. They plan to squeeze a 28-man roster into three rented vans for the 30-hour round-trip journey to Rhode Island. The team will drive through the night Thursday, practice Friday, play Saturday and Sunday, and then drive back to Indianapolis Sunday night. The Impalas’ first game in Rhode Island is against Grunion from Southern California, with the winner advancing to play the winner of the Bayonne-Haggis game. If Indianapolis wins both games this weekend, they will advance to the Final Four in Pittsburgh in June. The trip to Pittsburgh, thankfully, is only 12 hours round-trip. Russell Menyhart is a member of the Indianapolis Impalas Rugby Club.