Sophomore Day left Iowa Central head rugby coach Brent Nelson stunned.
And it really had nothing to do with what happened on the pitch.
While the Tritons came up short against Arkansas State here Saturday at Crimmins Field, 28-19, it was those soon-to-be graduates that had Nelson beaming with pride.
"We have 21 guys in the program who are on track to graduate, most of them with trade degrees who will enter the workforce immediately," said Nelson, the only head coach in the history of the program. "And 14 of those 21 received key minutes on Saturday. That just is incredible and I'm honestly stunned by it.
"It is exactly what you dream of as a coach: to see young people moving on into the world, getting a degree and accomplishing their goals. We lost the match, and that hurts, but to have that many kids on track to graduate, I'm just so proud."
Previous graduating classes have been no bigger than six, Nelson noted.
"When we started this program, I never envisioned something like this," he said. "Throw in what all these kids have gone through with a pandemic, and I'm really blown away by it.
"We also had just an incredible turnout and support once again, and I can't thank all of those people enough for supporting these amazing kids."
Iowa Central raced out to a 12-0 lead before Arkansas State, led by former Triton Jake Mizell, was able to rally in the second half.
"Yes, I'm as upset as any coach would be about losing the match," Nelson said. "But in terms of matches we've had against four-year, varsity, scholarship programs this year, this was the best one we have played. We did a lot of things well and it was a dogfight until the end.
"I'm happy with what I saw as much as you can be with a loss."
Iowa Central will head to Wisconsin on Saturday.
-By Dana Becker