MCRC Opens Season With a Win Over UMASS-Amherst

Captain+Brian+Sirkia+%2712.5+dodges+by+a+defender+to+propel+MCRC+to+their+first+win.
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MCRC Opens Season With a Win Over UMASS-Amherst

Captain Brian Sirkia '12.5 dodges by a defender to propel MCRC to their first win.

Captain Brian Sirkia '12.5 dodges by a defender to propel MCRC to their first win.

Captain Brian Sirkia '12.5 dodges by a defender to propel MCRC to their first win.

Captain Brian Sirkia '12.5 dodges by a defender to propel MCRC to their first win.

By Owen Teach

Following two promising performances at the preseason Granite Cup, featuring a close 10-8 loss to traditional rugby powerhouse Dartmouth, the Middlebury College Rugby Club (MCRC) bested UMASS-Amherst 33-31 this past Saturday, Sept. 15, taking an important step towards qualifying for Nationals this coming spring.

The back-and-forth contest against UMASS featured tries by scrumhalf Alec Mackenzie ’15, prop Mike Wysota ’14 and a hat trick from fullback Allan Stafford ‘13.5. The game carried extra significance as the Panthers lost the same game last fall by three points, and later failed to advance to the national tournament in the spring.

In the fall of 2011, the Panthers kicked off the season in largely uncharted territory. After enjoying a run of success in the New England Division II Collegiate Rugby League that saw the team fall just short of a national championship against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater during the previous spring, the MCRC battled  through the 2011-12 campaign to establish itself against stronger competition in the team’s first season in Division I-AA.

This fall, however, the team has a rigorous preseason camp under its belt and is already getting the results to prove that the MCRC can contend in Division I-AA.

“For us to go out against UMASS and get this result is an incredibly promising sign for this team,” said Stafford. “Given that we lost a close game to them last year, it shows that we can win close games and is a big confidence boost going forward.”

Forwards captain Ben Stasiuk ‘13.5 echoed this sentiment with growing confidence.

“Within any transitory period, you have to work out some kinks,” said Stasiuk. “After being in Division I for a year, we have now broken the ice and know that we can take care of business against bigger opponents. We have certainly shown this in our games against UMASS and Dartmouth to start the year.”

From a personnel perspective, the MCRC is looking to add several players to its “A-side” from an unproven, but promising crop of first-year players. Laird Silsby ’15 also figures to play an important role as the starting 8-man, while Brian Sirkia ‘12.5 is entering his third year as captain and will provide solid leadership for the team. Dylan Whitaker ’13, Stasiuk and Stafford round out a formidable line-up.

The foundation of the season, however was laid during the preseason, when the Panthers traveled to Dartmouth to take on the Big Green. With both teams deadlocked at 3-3 for most of the contest, Stafford scored a try with four minutes remaining to put Middlebury ahead 8-3.

The Panthers then missed the kick conversion, which proved to be costly as Dartmouth scored with no time remaining and made the kick to pull ahead 10-8.

There were some positives to be taken from the loss as the MCRC proved it could hang with the best teams in the country. Furthermore, the Panthers recovered well later in the tournament, burying a weaker University of New Hampshire side by a score of 48-0.

“Even without a victory against Dartmouth, it was a solid performance and a game that we should have won,” said Stafford.

Due to a feeling of chemistry among the side, and MCRC figures to take some large steps in D1-AA this year.

“Last year’s squad wasn’t as cohesive as this year’s will be,” said Stasiuk. “Team chemistry is skyrocketing and leaders are stepping up.”

The MCRC will face defending conference champion Northeastern at home this Saturday, Sept. 22, in a game that likely will play a large part in the Panthers march towards nationals in the spring.

The Huskies defeated the Panthers last October by a score of 34-3.

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