RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The sport of rugby has taken Corey Momsen from one end of the country to the other.
Now, it’s bringing him a little bit closer to home.
Momsen has been named the University of Rio Grande’s Director of Rugby and the head coach of its men’s and women’s teams which are scheduled to begin play during the 2021-22 school year.
Rio Grande athletic director Jeff Lanham made the announcement of Momsen’s hiring official on Thursday although, technically, the 27-year-old native of Wales, Wisconsin has been on the job for just over a week.
Momsen comes to Rio Grande after spending two full seasons and part of the current campaign as an assistant coach at his alma mater, American International College in Springfield, Mass.
“The move was very appealing to me. For one, I’ll be closer to home and my family. I just feel more at home in the Midwest and the Great Lakes region,” Momsen said. “Youth rugby, conveniently, is booming in Ohio and the Great Lakes region. I think the move is fantastic for both my personal growth and for my professional growth.”
Momsen joined the AIC coaching staff in the fall of 2018 as an assistant under then-head coach Rob Guiry. However, when Guiry resigned shortly after the start of the season, Momsen took over as the interim head coach of the Yellow Jackets and led the squad to a 3-2-1 record and a berth in the Liberty Conference Championship Tournament.
The Jackets defeated Syracuse in the semifinal round before defeating the University of Massachusetts to secure the program’s fourth conference championship.
As a player, Momsen was heavily-recruited out of Kettle Moraine High School and represented the Wisconsin Selects at the Rocky Mountain Challenge in the summer of 2011 before coming to AIC on full scholarship. He went on to become a starter at second row for the Yellow Jackets and never missed a 15s match or 7s tournament, helping to lead the team to several conference and tournament championships while earning three All-Conference selections.
Following the conclusion of his collegiate career, Momsen signed a professional contract with the Austin (TX) Huns, which now play as the Austin Elite in Major League Rugby. While with the Huns, he was a member of their 2017 team which won the USA Men’s D1 Club Championship.
“My background was actually in basketball, but I couldn’t touch the basketball court. That’s why I made the switch and I had a really successful rugby career,” he said “A lot of time, athletes aren’t getting enough playing time or opportunities to suit them in one sport and they want to do something different. Rugby, at any level, at any age, in any country is an example of a very open community that allows you to do that.”
Momsen acknowledged that he has a mountain of challenges to traverse in terms of getting the RedStorm’s programs off the ground.
Those challenges, though, are things in which he relishes the opportunity to answer.
“It’s great to see a University like Rio Grande support rugby and resource it in the way that they’re planning to,” said Momsen. “And the opportunity to grow as the Director of Rugby is what was most appealing to me. It’s a dream come true.”
“I’m pretty much, on a daily basis, explaining what rugby is to people, but I think that’s something that’s common nationwide.” he continued. “All of my colleagues are accustomed to, basically, beginning from the ground up in terms of resources and not having an alumni base. We’ve become familiar with being pioneers.”
Lanham said that he and the other members of the search committee are confident that Momsen is the right person to pioneer Rio’s fledgling program.
“We had a tremendous number of very qualified candidates for the position, but we were impressed with Corey’s passion and vision for the future culture of Rio Rugby,” Lanham said. “We want to compete at the national level. We’re looking to recruit 30-35 student-athletes for both programs. Corey comes from a successful program and can provide direction for Rio to reach these goals.”
Recruiting, obviously, is Momsen’s top priority.
His plan for accomplishing what could be a daunting task includes the hiring of two graduate assistant coaches to aid in the process.
“I can spend plenty of time this summer ordering jerseys, putting up goalposts and lining the field, but I’ve got to get working on building a roster — and a big one at that,” said Momsen. “For the safety of the players, I don’t want to have just enough to play. We want enough players to where there’s healthy competition at practice. That way you know that the best player is starting, but there’s also some depth as well because it is a contact sport. I’d been recruiting for AIC and we were just about done for next fall. Now, I’ve got to go out and find another pool of players who are interested and still looking for a college to sign with it. That’s going to be the biggest challenge at first, particularly since its a new program.”
Momsen said his recruiting efforts will target in-state athletes first, but won’t be limited to those inside the border of the Buckeye State.
“I have experience recruiting both nationwide and worldwide. It’s about finding the right fit — the right person who embraces everything that Rio has to offer … the location, the programs that are offered,” he said. “After you get as many in-state kids as possible, then it’s about identifying immediate impact players to fill out the roster.”
Rugby is a year-round sport, which plays a 15-player format in the fall and a 7-player format in the spring. Momsen’s plan is to have a program that will play both styles.
As for a conference affiliation, nothing has been officially decided yet, but the Allegheny Rugby Union, the Mid-American Rugby Conference and National College Rugby are the leading candidates.
According to Lanham, Rio Grande will utilize its current auxiliary or “practice” soccer field — located between the Evan E. Davis Soccer Field and Rio Softball Park — as its home pitch.
“One thing that’s really cool about collegiate rugby is, particularly on the men’s side, it’s not like most of the other sports. If you look at the national rankings for both men and women, the Top 10 schools aren’t always the big-name schools — they’re the schools that resource rugby the best,” said Momsen. “I think the possibility of getting noticed and making a name for the program early on is something that’s very attainable.”
“I love seeing rugby grow here in the states and providing opportunities for student-athletes to use it as a pathway to get an education, to travel and to continue playing,” Momsen added. “I can’t wait to introduce it to campus. Rugby, in my experience, really thrives at small schools. Given soccer’s success at Rio, I think rugby is a great fit and it’s going to do really well here.”
“Rugby will be a new experience to our campus, but we believe the passion for this sport will spread through our community and provide a great opportunity for student-athletes to receive a great education at Rio Grande,” he said.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.