Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
A week from now, the Atlantic Coast Rugby League will embark on their inaugural season with great anticipation from teams and fans alike. Made up of teams from nine universities from the Atlantic Coast Conference, participating teams include Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
The ACRL has also grabbed headlines this week with their announced sponsorship deal with Adidas and World Rugby Shop. Now it is time for the teams to grab headlines on the field.
Let’s take an inside look at each of the ACRL squads and how the league may shape up in 2011.
Coaching Staff: Justin Hickey (Head Coach), Adam Rapp (Assistant Coach), Wright Henry (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Rob Jeffcoat, No 8, (Sr); Justin Warzoha, Flyhalf, (So); Brian King, Center, (Sr)
Promising newcomers: Ryan Sully, Hooker/Flanker, (Fr)
Outlook: Clemson will need to keep the momentum rolling from their successful fall season and take that into the inaugural ACRL season. The Tigers have a versatile and mobile pack of forwards to complement their expansive game plan.
“The ability to play an expansive game proves to play into the success of this year’s team,” said Clemson Head Coach Justin Hickey.
“Organization in the set piece and first phase will contribute to the success Clemson will have this season. The ability to get points and finish when possessing ball in the opponents end will be critical.”
The Tigers come into the season under the radar in the ACRL which may be to their advantage. Getting off to a good start will be of the utmost importance to Clemson. The Tigers start the season with two straight home games (Wake Forest & North Carolina) which gives the team a golden opportunity to get off on the right foot.
Nickname: Blue Devils
Coaching Staff: Jay Wisse (Head Coach), James Gillenwater (Assistant Coach), Rick Bell (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Tom Luciano, Center, (Sr); Matt Gaske, Prop, (Jr); Dan Forti, Hooker, (Jr), Kevin Deland, Lock, (Jr); Louis Hellman, Lock, (Jr); Adam Lange, Prop, (Jr); John Pennington, Flanker, (Sr); Colin Howard, Center, (So)
Promising newcomers: Rory Makhema, Scrumhalf, (Fr); Max Coar, Flyhalf, (Fr)
Outlook: The transition to Division I may prove difficult for the Blue Devils, but the team and coaching staff is up to the task. Prior experience playing against some of their ACRL competition will help ease the transition for Duke. Speedy and solid in their set pieces, the Blue Devils have an experienced squad that might surprise.
“Moving from DIII to DI is sure to produce its challenges but we have a core of experienced and talented players so we expect to be competitive,” added Duke Head Coach Jay Wisse.
What Duke lacks in size compared to some of their opponents will have to be made up with conviction.
“We need to play tough defense to overcome the size disadvantage and be flexible enough to attack opponents’ weaknesses whatever those might be,” said Wisse in regards to what Duke needs to accomplish in order to be successful this season.
The ACRL is an excellent opportunity for all of the nine teams involved, but perhaps more so for Duke. The leap in competition level may sting at first, but the Blue Devils could improve quickly with a push from their ACRL counterparts.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Coaching Staff: Dan MacDougald (Head Coach), Rene Daniel (Assistant Coach), Paul Donnan (Junior Varsity Coach)
Top returning players: Alvin Chen, Center, (Sr), Tanner Hall, Prop, (Jr); Brian David, Wing, (Sr)
Promising newcomers: Nate Young, Prop, (So); Nic Colon, Center, (Fr); Sy Rashid, Wing, (Fr)
Outlook: Georgia Tech faces an uphill battle this season. The team is currently in the rebuilding process after losing many seniors. The Yellowjackets are young, but talented and are ready to open some eyes in the ACRL. Led by Senior Alvin Chen, Georgia Tech will rely on the foundation of their team, which is the forwards and use that as their platform.
“Our first season in ACRL is going to be a challenge for our team. We have lost a lot of our senior players and are still rebuilding. Even though our team is young, we have a lot of talent and I am confident that Georgia Tech will be successful this season,” said Yellowjackets Head Coach Dan MacDougald.
Georgia Tech has a tough, but manageable schedule ahead of them with road games to face North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Duke and they play host to Clemson, Virginia, and North Carolina State. Staying competitive will be of the utmost importance to the young squad and will breed confidence as the season goes on.
“Our team needs to play as a single unit. We have a lot of very good players and it is just a matter of them all working together to make the entire team a success,” finished MacDougald.
North Carolina State University
Coaching Staff: Robert McAlister (Head Coach), Dave Egan (Assistant Coach), Hamilton Earp (Assistant Coach), Jim Latham (Assistant Coach), Steve Brush (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Captain Matt Pace, Flanker (Jr); Abe Harman, Prop, (Jr); Steven Bahner, Hooker, (So); Mark Addison, Prop, (Jr); Matt Daniels, Lock, (So); Eddie Youngs, Lock, (So); Andrew Birch, No 8, (Jr); Robby Dow, Flyhalf, (Jr); Phillip Burcal, Utility, (Sr); Brandon Mosiman, Center, (Jr); Greg Hesler, Fullback (Jr); Will Durway, Wing, (Jr); David McAllister, Wing, (Jr)
Promising newcomers: Craig Denker, Back, (Fr); Robert Jordan, Forward, (Fr); Scotty Mackiman, Forward, (Fr); Charley Brooks, Forward, (Fr); Aaron Williams, Back, (Fr); Dominick Goldston, Back, (Fr)
Outlook: North Carolina State brings an experienced side into the 2011 Atlantic Coast season. The Wolfpack are led by Captain Matt Pace and boast a team that is not flashy, but solid throughout their lineup and they get the job done in the less glamorous aspects of the game. Not unlike a real wolfpack, NC State will need plenty of that same grit to compete for top honors in the Atlantic Coast.
“We will have to play solid fundamental rugby, scoring when opportunities arise and defend well. Staying healthy and traveling well will also be very important,” said Wolfpack Head Coach Robert McAlister.
Coming off a very good 2010 that included winning the Atlantic Coast Invitational 7’s, NC State is ready to compete for the 2011 ACRL title. The Wolfpack has a favorable home schedule with games against conference contenders Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina all at home. Their big road test will be on April 16th when they head to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech.
University of Maryland
Coaching Staff: Peter Baggetta (Head Coach), Jeff Soeken (Assistant Coach), Steve Laake (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Richard Whang, Flanker, (Sr); Victor Ochey, Prop, (Sr); Sean Murphy, Prop, (Sr); Keith Sneddon, Lock, (So); Trevor Tanifum, Wing, (Jr); Kevin Bishop, Center, (Jr)
Promising newcomers: Matias Cima, Flyhalf, (Fr); John Davis, Center, (Fr); Sage Winn, Prop, (So); Karl Rempe, Flyhalf/Fullback, (Fr)
Outlook: The Terrapins are another pre-season favorite, but perhaps face the most daunting schedule of all of the Atlantic Coast teams. The Terps open the season will three road trips to North Carolina in the first four weeks. During that span they will face UNC, Wake Forest, and NC State. If the team can make it through that stretch in good standing then they will place themselves in excellent position in the conference.
“The logistics of the new league will be a challenge. I think if we can fare well early in the season, then we might be looking at a good spring. It also wouldn’t hurt for a mild winter so we can get some training done outside early,” said Terrapin Assistant Coach Jeff Soeken.
Maryland comes off a great fall season where they were able to provide plenty of playing time for their younger players. The Terps will use a combination of defense and speed to challenge their opponents at every facet of the game. With plenty of senior leadership on the squad and a crop of young players with experience, the University of Maryland should be right in the thick of things in the ACRL.
“I know the players and coaches are looking forward to the competition. Many of the teams in the ACRL are not usual opponents for UM so the guys will need to be prepared to each week to be on top of their game,” added Soeken.
University of North Carolina
Coaching Staff: Mike Groenewald (Head Coach), Pete Earsman (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Alex Lee, Flanker, (Sr); Jacob Rierson, Flanker, (Sr); Greg Moye, No.8, (Jr); Russel Martin, Scrumhalf (Jr); Gregor Maclennan, Flyhalf (Jr); Evan Rose, Center, (Sr); Simon Wubben, Fullback, (Jr); Travis Spencer, Wing/Scrumhalf, (Sr); Ben Mohar, Lock, (Jr)
Promising newcomers: Jack Byer, Loose Forward, (So); Dan Hudgens, Center, (Fr); David Baron, Wing, (Jr); Harry Briffit, Center, (Jr); Trey Martin, Prop, (Fr)
Outlook: With an experienced mix of players that includes plenty of international flavor, North Carolina will need to step it up a notch to compete for the ACRL title. The Tarheels have a large outgoing class of seniors and intend to send them out on a high note. North Carolina is another team that will have to make up for a size disadvantage with conditioning and flair and the Tarheels will try to move the ball every chance they get.
“We are very excited about the new ACRL, and getting to play a few teams that we don’t regularly play. It’s a bit of a step up from last year’s Carolinas Rugby League, that we did not perform in as well as we would have liked. But it’s a new season and we have a big senior class that wants to end their college rugby stint on a high. We are very excited about the rivalries that will be re-established that have been missing for quite a while.,” said UNC Head Coach Mike Groenewald.
Aside from playing Virginia Tech on the road, the Tarheels have a favorable schedule. Their early season trip to take on Clemson will be a test that may serve as an early indicator of how the team will fare.
“We need to stick to our guns when things don’t go our way, just stay in it mentally,” added Groenewald.
Along with the upcoming ACRL season, the Tarheels also have to keep the Collegiate Rugby Championship in the back of their minds. As one of the 12 teams that have been invited to play in the sevens championship to be broadcast live on NBC. Preparations for the early June tournament will likely begin before the ACRL season comes to a close.
University of Virginia
Coaching Staff: M. Ernest Marshall, M.D. (Head Coach); South Holden (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Gerry Spellman, Center, (Sr); South Holden, No. 8 (Sr); John Curtain, Hooker, (Sr); Evan Burch, Fullback, (Jr); John Thompson, Prop, (Jr); Locke Bell, Prop, (Sr); Walter Thorne, Lock, (Sr); Mark Kolodne, Flanker, (Sr); Mike Tobin, Flanker, (Sr); Kyle Bourassa, Wing, (Sr); Jeff Perkowski, Scrumhalf, (Sr)
Promising newcomers : Chris Curtiin, Scrumhalf, (So); Riley Strand, Lock, (Fr); Harry Fischer, Lock, (Fr); Robbie Hemstreet, Wing, (Jr); Julian Henderson, Flyhalf, (Jr); James Sayer, Prop, (So); Evan Wilson, Hooker, (Fr); Tyler Slack, No. 8, (Jr); Richard Moffett, Hooker, (Jr).
Outlook: The University of Virginia comes into the season as one of the teams to beat in the Atlantic Coast Rugby League. The Cavaliers have more depth in their squad than has been seen in Charlottesville for many years. The team will rely on their experience, positional kicking, and overall team speed to wear down their opponents.
Virginia has proved that it can play right there with the top teams in the region. In the fall the team posted a big win over conference rival North Carolina State and suffered close losses to Virginia Tech and Kutztown, who is now in the DI Premier League. In the Atlantic Coast 7’s Tournament, the Cavaliers advanced to the tournament semifinals before falling to eventual champion North Carolina State.
“We need to stay fit, stay healthy and play tough defense.,” said UVA Head Coach M. Ernest Marshall, M.D.
“The teams that play the best defense will be the teams with the best records at the end of this season. Many of the teams in the league have the ability to mount aggressive, effective offensive play but what will separate the stronger teams from the others is defense.”
Virginia will be tested right out of the gates with a trip to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack on March 5th and three of their first four games on the road. If they can survive that set of road conference games, then the Cavaliers might be in great shape.
“Every team in the ACRL is improving and every match of the season will be tough for every team. There will be no easy victories,” added Marshall.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Coaching Staff: Andy Richards (Head Coach), Bill Young (Assistant Coach), Eric Gartenberg (Assistant Coach) and Perry Pence (Assistant Coach)
Top returning players: Matt Heitzer, Center, (Jr); Brett Keyes, Fullback, (Grad)
Promising newcomers: Ron Pelkey, Lock, (So); Michele Minichiello, No 8, (Fr)
Outlook: Virginia Tech comes into the season after a solid fall season where they went 4-3 against formidable competition. Their three losses came against two Division I Premier teams (Life University & Tennessee) and one of the top Division I teams in Bowling Green. Of their victories, one came against ACRL and state rival University of Virginia.
The Hokies are anchored by a strong scrum and powerful centers led by Junior Matt Heitzer. The team looks to use their advantage at the scrum to provide the platform needed to score points.
“If we can get really fit for the start of the league season, then we will have a good chance. We improved with every game in the fall and hope to continue in that trend,” said Head Coach Andy Richards.
The Hokies head into the season with a large bull’s-eye on their back. As one of the teams to beat in the conference, Virginia Tech can expect opponents to come at them full force every weekend. With plenty of talent in their lineup and a favorable home schedule, Virginia Tech comes into the inaugural ACRL season with a championship on their mind.
Wake Forest University
Nickname: Demon Deacons
Coaching Staff: Patrick Kane (Head Coach), Rob Duryea (Assistant Coach/Backs), Brad Havins (Assistant Coach/Forwards), Trent Justice, (Assistant Coach/Strength and Conditioning)
Top returning players: Ross Hilton, Lock, (Sr); Christian Jewett, Lock, (Sr); Johnny McMurray, Fullback, (So); Brandon Turner, Wing, (Jr); Ben Cohen, Flyhalf, (Jr); Drew Chadwick, Wing, (Sr)
Promising newcomers: Ryan Tacon, Center, (Fr); Franco Cima, Center, (Fr); Liam McIntyre, Flanker, (Fr); Jack Zimmerman, Hooker, (Fr); James Watson, Center, (Fr)
Outlook: It wasn’t that long ago that Wake Forest was a DIII team. Since 2004 the program has progressively grown and continued to move up to better competitions. The ACRL culminates years of hard work by coaches and players in the program. The Demon Deacons aren’t front-runners in the ACRL, but they have the ability to compete and make some noise. The squad has experience, but a bumper crop of freshmen, three of which are already in the starting lineup, has the team excited about the present and the future.
“No question, our strength is in our backline. We are young- I expect to have 3 freshmen and a sophomore in our first side backline, but we are skilled and fast. We also have some exceptional loose forwards. We will look to play a very wide-open, expansive game,” said Wake Forest Head Coach Patrick Kane.
“Given that this is the first year of the ACRL, it’s hard to know what to expect. We are pretty familiar with the teams south of Virginia, having played all of them at least once over the past 18 months. But Maryland, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are relatively unknown-the only thing I know is that all three will be very good,” added Kane.
Wake Forest has the decked stacked against them with road games at Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Clemson. Getting off to a good start in conference play will be difficult, but not impossible. Wake Forest needs to improve their scrum and front up to the bigger teams in the competition in order to push towards the top of the standings.
“Each successive season we’ve entered a more difficult league, and this will by far be the biggest challenge Wake rugby has ever faced. That said, it is also by far the most exciting one. To play in an ACC-based league is something that all our student-athletes are thrilled about,” said Kane in response to Wake Forest’s rise in competition over the years.
As the nine teams in the Atlantic Coast Rugby League prepare to open up play, they do so knowing that many eyes are on them. The conference’s recent sponsorship deal with Adidas and World Rugby Shop is potentially a game-changer for college rugby.
The deal is underscored by the hard work and faith that each of the founding members have placed in the competition.
“The league itself has the potential to be a force in the national picture and Clemson aspires to be a part of the growth and development of the league,” said Justin Hickey of Clemson.
The ACRL has harnessed the power of traditional rivalries that were fostered and built by one of the most recognizable collegiate sports conferences. The ACRL is also poised to be just as competitive as their NCAA counterpart.
While there are some frontrunners in the league, it is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. The ACRL has the competitive balance that should make each and every weekend of the conference schedule interesting. It would be foolish to write off the power of rivalries and the ACRL is loaded with some of the oldest in college sports.
“The beauty of this league is that there will be compelling matchups every weekend. I think at least six of the nine teams have a legitimate shot at winning the title,” said Wake Forest Head Coach and ACRL Commissioner Pat Kane.
The brands that are on display in the ACRL have gotten the league attention and sponsorship, but down the road it will be the play on the field that sets them apart from the rest.
2011 Atlantic Coast Rugby League Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll
2011 Atlantic Coast Rugby League Schedule
26th February 2011
Wake Forest @ Clemson
NC State @ Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech @ Duke
Maryland @ North Carolina
5th March 2011
Virginia @ NC State
Maryland @ Wake Forest
Georgia Tech @ Duke
North Carolina @ Clemson
12th March 2011
Clemson @ Georgia Tech
19th March 2011
Virginia @ Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech @ Clemson
Maryland @ NC State
Duke @ North Carolina
26th March 2011
Wake Forest @ Virginia Tech
North Carolina @ NC State
Duke @ Virginia
2nd April 2011
Virginia @ Maryland
Clemson @ Duke
Georgia Tech @ Wake Forest
North Carolina @ Virginia Tech
9th April 2011
NC State @ Wake Forest
Clemson @ Virginia
Virginia Tech @ Maryland
16th April 2011
Wake Forest @ Virginia
Duke @ Maryland
Georgia Tech @ North Carolina
NC State @ Virginia Tech
23rd April 2011
Atlantic Coast Rugby League Championship game
@ Charlotte RFC