Lander rugby coach Buck Billings has something to build on after the 2019 season.
Billings, in his first season as the Lander men’s and women’s rugby coach, led the men’s team to a 7-1 record in the regular season. The women’s team went 4-1.
The Bearcat’s men’s team won the Southern Rugby Conference this season, then fell Saturday 86-0 to No. 1 seed Christendom in the National Small College Rugby Organization first round.
“We’ve had great success this season,” Billings said. His Lander men’s team was a 19-seed in the NSCRO tournament, and facing a varsity rugby powerhouse from Virginia.
Lander rugby has been a club sport at Lander since the early 2000s, but Billings was hired in January as coach when the team was moved into the Lander athletic department.
The varsity transition gave the program access to the athletic department’s facilities, athletic trainers and other resources.
Billings sensed a strong year coming when he saw the base of talent the club team already had.
“I felt like we were going to have a solid year because I had seen the club team play last year and I knew they had really good players and tough players and a good foundation of military guys that would really buy in,” Billings said. “We have four players that are in the military or are ROTC. I knew that was going to bring something.”
The men’s team thrived this season, finishing the regular season with wins against Clemson, Wake Forest and College of Charleston. The Bearcats only loss was 21-19 to Coastal Carolina.
Billings previously coached rugby in Tennessee before joining Lander. Since coming to South Carolina, he’s seen plenty of opportunities to grow the sport and Lander’s program.
“I just really look forward to hopefully building a pipeline and getting some of those players, and building up some programs in the state,” Billings said. “We’re going to really invest in coaching and developing programs so we have in state players and we can recruit them.”
Billings said he’s focused on cultivating areas where rugby is strong in the state. Wando High School in Charleston has one of the best rugby teams in the country and programs in Irmo and Greenville are also strong.
The men’s team’s top player this season, Matthew Shoemaker, was recruited by Billings from Greenville.
“We want South Carolina rugby to be good in the high schools, and of course we want Lander rugby to be one of the best teams in the country, year in and year out,” Billings said.