Rhinos, Billy Goats Gruff Set to Unleash Wrath on Spring Opponents

John Critterden

As Oberlin’s winter gradually becomes nothing more than a bad memory, some dangerous creatures are awakening from hibernation. I’m speaking, of course, about the Oberlin College rugby teams: the Rhinos and the Billy Goats Gruff.

The Rhinos will open their season on March 19 with a match against a talented side in Ashland University. The Rhinos field a team full of veteran talent with many senior standouts and even a few lingering Oberlin graduates among them, such as scoring machine Spencer Thompson. Rhinos senior scrum captain Carrie Gratiot captured the vibe of the team going into the season by saying, “For a lot of us, this is our last semester together, so we want to end our time here on a positive note. [We also] want to ensure that enough young players step up into leadership roles to carry on the Rhino tradition.”

With plenty of game experience at the team’s disposal, an emphasis is being placed on versatility. As Gratiot puts it, “We want all of our players to at least understand the roles of everyone around them and to develop some position flexibility.”

The Rhinos plan to compete in two tournaments, including a return to the Teapot Dome Tournament in Marion, Ohio, one that consistently features some of the region’s best teams. In their last visit to the tournament, they beat Ohio State en route to winning the overall championship. The combination of grizzled veterans and talented youngsters has set the Rhinos’ expectations high this season as they hope for a repeat of 2008’s success.

The Gruffs also enter the spring season with high hopes, looking to establish a winning tradition after several seasons of growing pains. Sophomore captain Jackson Meredith and junior captain Matthew Harris have raised the bar from previous seasons, instituting a rigorous preseason conditioning regimen while recruiting many new faces to the team.

“Our focus in practices leading up to the season has been on improving physical and mental toughness, as well as general fitness level,” said Harris. The Gruffs boast a solid core of young players already armed with game experience, including the team’s reigning MVP in first-year Shonari Edwards. Edwards burst onto the rugby scene this past fall to account for half of the team’s scoring with eight tries, most of which came as a result of tremendous individual effort. His talents are not limited to offense, however, as his phenomenal closing speed allowed him to consistently punish opponents with crunching hits and try-saving tackles.

With the return of young and tested players like Edwards, the addition of some promising new talent and the continued contributions of grizzled veterans such as senior forward and former scrum captain Dharam Khalsa, the aspirations of the team are justifiably higher than ever. The team is still growing, and since its formation in 2007 the Gruffs have steadily improved each year. Following a season marked by several close losses, many players feel that the team is finally turning the corner and ready to challenge its rivals in the Ohio Rugby Union. They will get a chance to make their case starting on April 19, when they travel to Granville, Ohio, for a match against foe Denison University.