Rugby Teams Cruise in First Action of the Season

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Rugby Teams Cruise in First Action of the Season

By Owen Teach

Looking to build on a successful run in last season’s Division I-AA Rugby Championship, the Middlebury College Rugby Club (MCRC) opened its fall 2013 campaign by playing host to the University of Massachusetts (UMass) on Saturday, Sept. 14. Despite not cracking the UMass try zone until late in the first half, the Panthers managed to pull away with four tries and a penalty kick to secure a 28-12 victory, placing them on good footing to start the Eastern Collegiate Rugby Conference (ECRC) season.

A festive atmosphere surrounded the rugby pitch on Saturday — something forward Ben Stasiuk ’13.5 says is a welcome addition to the Middlebury rugby culture. The student pep band and a sizeable group of supports greeted MCRC for its season-opener.

“I think that was arguably the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in a game at Middlebury,” Stasiuk said. “I think that it’s our move up to Division I and our presence on campus; overall we’ve worked to have a good, strong presence and support for the team has grown because of it.”

Fullback Allan Stafford ’13.5 echoed Stasiuk’s comments.

“Based on our four years here, [crowd support] has grown a lot,” Stafford said. “As a player, it definitely makes an impact to hear a lot of crowd noise that makes for a 16th-man atmosphere.”

On the field, one of the most noticeable changes in the fall 2013 edition of MCRC is the bruising play of the forward line. In the team’s two tune-up games during the Granite Cup at Dartmouth on Sunday, Sept. 8, and again this past Saturday, the Panthers’ beefed-up front line impressed Stasiuk.

“We are massive compared with years past,” he said. “We actually have the biggest front pack I’ve ever seen at Middlebury. A lot of guys took our summer fitness program very seriously: Cliff Alexander ’15 dropped weight and got really fit while Charlie Kunze ’15 (a former defenseman lineman on the football team) switched full time to MCRC.”

While the front line played a strong game, transition to the speed players on the outside wings was one area that Stafford found fault with after the win against UMass.

“We weren’t getting a clean ball out to 10-man Adam Schreiber ’14 and we were also having a lot of trouble getting it wide,” said Stafford.

That said, Stasiuk spoke to the team’s decreasing reliance on the speedy backs as MCRC demonstrated physical dominance in the contest.

“It’s a different game now,” he said. “Traditionally, we relied on our backs to get most of the job done in terms of scoring points. Now that we have this new pack and some relatively new spots in the backs, our game has shifted to the point where it’s more forward-oriented and we’re using our forwards more offensively than we did in the past.”

Despite the commanding score line, Stafford believed it could have been a more lopsided result.

“We were in control the whole time, but we just made it harder on ourselves and had trouble finishing,” he said. “We could’ve easily scored two or three more tries given that we made several mistakes in front of the try line.”

Stafford, however, was satisfied with his team’s methodical win. By virtue of scoring four tries in the game, MCRC also received an additional “bonus try point” in the ECRC standings — something that could take on additional importance if the season comes down to the wire. Last year, Middlebury clinched the ECRC regular season crown over Boston College (BC) after securing more bonus points than BC.

The impact of the bonus try earned on Saturday may become apparent in late November and early December of this year, as a change in MCRC’s conference format  this season will see the team competiting for a potential National Championship then, instead of in the spring in years past.

Next Saturday, Sept. 21, MCRC faces off against American International College (AIC) — one of the four Division I-AA programs in the nation with a varsity program.

On the women’s side, the Middlebury College Women’s Rugby Club (MCWRC) romped to a 79-5 victory against St. Michael’s College B-Side on Saturday, Sept. 14, in a tune-up game for the start of the New England Small College Rugby Conference (NESCRC) season next weekend at defending conference champion Bowdoin.

In fact, Bowdoin was the team that eliminated Middlebury by a score of 10-5 in the NESCRC last November, thereby taking the conference’s automatic bid into the Divion II National Championship in the spring. For captains Emily Duh ’14 and Sarah Minahan ’14, the game at “St. Mike’s” was a chance to regroup before NESCRC play.

“After graduating nine seniors last spring, we were ready for this to be a rebuilding year to train new players,” said Duh. “Going into the St. Mike’s game, we were really just looking for a strong base to build our season on. That being said, we were impressed with the strong offensive, and especially with how our rookies played.”

Seven different players recorded tries for MCWRC, with Duh converting the kick on eight of the team’s 11 overall tries.

“We have a lot of talented players on the team, and had tries coming from a variety of players in many different positions,” Minahan said. “Notably our centers, Stevie Durocher ’15.5 and Duh accounted for 41 points between the two of them and I’m definitely excited to see the rest of their seasons. We also had a number of players scoring their first career tries, always a great way to start the season.”

Next week against Bowdoin, the team looks to build upon the positive strides they made in last November’s defeat.

“Bowdoin has a talented team, but we’re feeling confident about the players we have and our ability to play well together,” Duh said. “We’re going to work on holding our defensive line and making great tackles this week in practice, and with that I think with that we’ll be ready for a great game this weekend.”

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