Andover grad helps Duluth rugby team reach national championship game

Rugby is a sport that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but as Andover High School 2009 graduate and University of Minnesota-Duluth junior Andrew Godeen puts it, all it takes is one experience to get hooked.

Andrew Godeen, middle in blue, reaches for the ball on a line-out during the championship semifinal in Ohio May 12.

Andrew Godeen, middle in blue, reaches for the ball on a line-out during the championship semifinal in Ohio May 12.
Photo courtesy of Brenda Tschimperle

“Guys love it if they see it,” Godeen said, who wrestled, played football, lacrosse and ran track at Andover and wrestled at Rochester Community and Technical College for one year before enrolling at UMD.

“The biggest thing holding rugby back is that people aren’t exposed to it, yet,” Godeen said. “You tell them it’s a mix between soccer and football.”

Godeen found rugby after merely running into the club captain after moving to Duluth.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to wrestle and a friend said they had a rugby team,” he said.

“I ran into the captains and talked with them for a while, checked out a practice and I’ve never stopped going ever since.”

The second-year player for the Duluth Fighting Penguins Rugby Club turned plenty of heads last week as the team not only qualified for the USA College Rugby Division II National Championships May 11-12, but finished runner-up in the national championship match, losing to 2012 runner-up Salisbury University (Maryland) 32-17 in the game played at Bowling Green University in Ohio May 12.

Godeen said the biggest thing the UMD squad had going for itself was its hard work and determination, along with a great coach, Jeramy Katchuba.

“The guys are dedicated and we really work hard,” he said.

The conditioning time put in translated to second-half surges to score many wins, Godeen said.

“Some teams looked bigger than us but we were one of the best conditioned teams out there,” he said.

“If the game was close at the half, we really excelled in the second half.” The 14th-seeded UMD club played much of the fall regular season under the radar, despite posting an 11-3 record in the Northern Lights Conference before going 9-0 in the spring season.

This came after winning three games total the previous year.

Being the relatively unknown club became obvious before the final four since the team’s name was incorrectly spelled on the locker room designation. The Penguins defeated Wisconsin-Whitewater 43-17 in the national quarterfinals in Madison, Wis., April 28 and Indiana University of Pennsylvania 59-15 in the semifinal May 11.Godeen said the confidence level was at a fever pitch after knocking off Whitewater, which is a perennial power.

Godeen wears the No. 8 jersey, but played a second-row or lock position on the field.

According to Wikipedia, the position is huge in creating power to push the scrum in the proper direction.

Locks are the guys lifted in the air while the ball is thrown in on a line-out and therefore should have good hands.

They also tend to compete for the kick offs and secure the ball at the bottom of the piles in rucks and mauls.

Being a club level team, the team doesn’t receive any financial support from the university. Therefore the players, alumni and fund-raisers helped pay for a charter bus to drive the club more than 12 hours to Ohio and back for nationals, the weekend before the start of finals.

Godeen said he, like many of his teammates, hit the books on the way home. “We got back into Duluth about 2 a.m. Monday, the first day of finals,” said the environmental science major, who had one final exam later that day.

“You have to find a balance to stay eligible and we do,” he said.

Along with the bumps and bruises, Godeen said he’s stayed relatively injury free, aside from what he described as concussions.

“First game out I remembered the first two minutes then nothing else, but I’ve seen teeth knocked out and for the most part I haven’t see many injuries,” he said.

“For the most part you’re safe but the big hits typically come when someone makes a mistake.”

For the record he hasn’t been on either end of NFL-like super big hit.

Godeen sees the Penguins tradition only growing as they graduate only one player and have grown membership to include two full sides for practice, something of a first for the club that began in the 1970s.

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