Wells Fulton is in his first season as the head coach of the Hilton Head Gators after a season as an assistant last season.
He likens the USA Club Rugby Division III Championship, in which Hilton Head is now playing, to the NCAA Division I basketball championships, often known as March Madness.
"It's the same style of brackets," Fulton said. "The intensity and level of play increase as the number of teams gets smaller."
Fulton's squad should see a lot of intensity Saturday when Hilton Head (8-1) squares off in an 11 a.m. match against the Chicago Riot in Virginia Beach, Va., in the Sweet 16.
Should Hilton Head win, it will advance to play the winner of Philadelphia-Whitemarsh and Saratoga, N.Y., on Sunday. If Hilton Head loses, it will still play a consolation game on Sunday.
"We're going up against the best of the best at our level of competition," Fulton said. "The population level that a team like Chicago has to draw from is so different, it's pretty crazy."
Fulton, his 28-player squad and a local EMT migrated to Virginia on Friday in a couple of personal vehicles and two 15-passenger vans.
While Chicago is making its debut in the nationals, this is the third time in five years the Gators have reached this level.
"We're a smaller side than a lot of other clubs but we have an advantage in how fit we are," Fulton said. "Our fitness level is very high compared to most teams, and we are very quick. We can rely on our fitness and our quickness."
According to Fulton, credit for the shape the Hilton Head team is in goes to the players and their commitment to the training program he implemented on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December when matches were a distant goal.
"We've been committed from December until now," Fulton said. "The ones that were here in December have pushed the ones that couldn't make it and that's why we are where we are."
USA Rugby Men's Division III Club Championship Round of 16
Hilton Head Gators vs. Chicago Riot
11 a.m. Saturday, Virginia Beach, Va.
Details: www.usarugby.org, www.pitchero.com/clubs/hiltonheadrugbyclub