WHEELING - After just one year of existence, the Wheeling Jesuit University rugby program has been accepted into USA Rugby's D1A college rugby competition, and with it, accepted into the Rugby East Conference effective for the fall 2013 season.
In the Rugby East Conference, WJU joins some of the strongest teams in the country including Penn State, The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Kutztown University, and the University of Delaware.
"We are excited and honored to be invited to join D1A and Rugby East,'' WJU coach Eric Jerpe said. "I have a lot of respect for each of these teams, so it represents a massive challenge for us. We have a young and exciting team though, with a strong recruiting class coming in the fall.
"As this class of student athletes grows and matures together, we have the potential to compete with anyone."
The Cardinals are coming off a 10-4-1 record in their inaugural season with a team comprised of mostly freshmen. It was only in December of 2011 that Wheeling Jesuit officially announced it would be reinstating rugby as a varsity sport (rugby was played at WJU as a club sport from the 70s to mid 9's). Coach Jerpe was officially hired in January and set out to build the team from scratch.
"We have stated from our program's inception that our goal is to become one of the best teams in the country," Jerpe added. "D1A is the top level of play in college rugby, and Rugby East is arguably the strongest conference in D1A.
"We have to challenge ourselves with the best competition week in and week out in order to become the best."
Wheeling Jesuit was officially voted into the competition last weekend at the league meeting coinciding with the D-I National Championship match in Greensboro, N.C.
"Wheeling Jesuit University recognizes the value of our wonderful sport in enhancing the student-athlete experience," said Kevin Battle, D1A Rugby Commissioner. "Elevating rugby to varsity status is a transformational development that will help to uplift our game to new heights in this country. We look forward to an intense rivalry developing in the East, with the likes of West Point, Penn St, Delaware and Kutztown being among the elite programs in all of college rugby. We proudly welcome Wheeling Jesuit University to D1A Rugby.