Las Vegas, New Mexico – The Highlands University Vatos rugby club is looking to defend its 2015 national title June 4 – 5 in Philadelphia at the 2016 national tournament, with the university hosting a welcome back celebration June 6 at 3 p.m. in the Student Union.
The community is invited to the celebration that includes music and light refreshments. The Student Union is at 800 National Ave.
The Vatos will square off in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) national sevens championship, where teams of seven players compete.
“Win or lose, I want to say that first and foremost this is a great group of student athletes, and eight of our 24 players graduated in May,” said Dick Greene, longtime Vatos coach. “We’re heavily favored in this national championship tournament, which puts a lot of pressure on our team. We’re going to be very clinical in our play, focusing on fast and fluid rugby.”
Greene said the Vatos are part of the final eight teams in the country that have earned the right to compete at the NSCRO nationals by virtue of winning regional titles from among 248 teams that competed.
“The fastest and most athletic of the 24 Vatos players make up our sevens team, which carries 15 players on the roster. We plan to play with speed and grace at nationals, and represent Highlands well,” Greene said.
He said team captain Kevon Williams has been an outstanding leader for the Vatos.
“Kevon actually turned down a pro contract to finish his computer science degree in May. I think this is a perfect model of the spirit of rugby because it’s a game about character, teamwork and citizenship rather than self aggrandizement,” Greene said.
Greene said he’s especially proud of the fact that over the past 25 years since he established the Vatos club, it has won 80 percent of its games and more importantly, 80 percent of its players have graduated from Highlands.
This is the last year Greene, who is also an engineering and biology professor at Highlands, will coach the Vatos.
“I’ll be passing the reigns of the team to another coach. It will probably be Jake Whiting, a Highlands alumnus and former Vatos player,” Greene said.
He said that he and the entire Vatos club is very grateful for the support the university’s administration and student senate gave the Vatos this year, as well as the successful fundraising the Highlands Foundation conducted for the club.
“This will be a welcome back, we-love-our-Vatos celebration on June 6,” said Kimberly Blea, interim dean of students. “We want to recognize the success of these student athletes on the field and in the classroom.”
Blea said a limited number of Vatos apparel items are on sale at the university’s book store in the Student Union.