Men’s rugby advances to playoffs

Senior Karl Foley strives for a win alongside of the rest of the men's rugby team. This year they have advanced to the Final Four. Courtesy of: Vassar Athletics.
Senior Karl Foley strives for a win alongside of the rest of the men's rugby team. This year they have advanced to the Final Four. Courtesy of: Vassar Athletics.
Senior Karl Foley strives for a win alongside of the rest of the men’s rugby team. This year they have advanced to the Final Four. Courtesy of: Vassar Athletics.

This year’s season has earned the Vassar College men’s rugby team a solid winning record of 8-2 and, with only one losing season since 2000, the team’s storied successes will continue this weekend in National playoffs vs. James Madison University.

Even with such astounding recent wins coming into the Fall 2013 season, the team’s goal was to make it to  the conference playoffs. In an emailed statement, Head Coach Tony Brown admitted, “My expectations at the start of the fall included being a top four team, but when we lost Akeel St. Vil [’13] I was not quite so sure.”

Senior co-captain Andrew Jdaydani seconded the sentiment that, although the team has confidence, men’s rugby does not underestimate the challenges ahead. “I thought top four would be easy to get to,” Jdaydani wrote in an emailed statement. “Then from there, our character would be tested.”

In fact, according to players, the two losses early in the season against Seton Hall University and Fairfield University sparked the team’s drive to make it to playoffs. Jdaydani reflected, “The season started off great with a shutout, but turned sour with two big losses. Although those two losses were our only losses, moving forward there was the big question of playoffs.”

Coach Brown also referenced those two losses. “Obviously, winning the conference was a very satisfying achievement because we lost two games early on and had to battle just to make the top four and the playoffs,” he wrote. “To go on and defeat the defending champions and local rivals, Marist College, was redemption for losing narrowly to them three times last year.” Senior co-captain Karl Foley also noted that these losses created a tough start to the season.

In terms of redemption, Jdaydani agreed that, “The big win was at Marist where we avenged last year’s regular season loss and put us ahead of the previous conference frontrunner.” He continued, “In the playoffs, we avenged our loss to Seton Hall from earlier in the year with a close victory. Right after that, we defeated Marist again to seal our comeback from the two losses that plagued us earlier in the season.”

In its Tri-State Championship game vs. Marist College, the men’s rugby team ultimately defeated the Red Foxes 11-5. Junior Jesse Myhill has one try for the Brewers, while junior flyhalf Nick Graham had two pens. The team had originally played Marist earlier in the season on November 3, winning 34-12. According to Jdaydani, this was the season-changing win for the team. “The Marist game turned the season around for us. I was surprised by how well we played,” he wrote. Foley also agreed, saying, “We started hitting our stride at the right moment with big wins this past month.”

After several key losses on the roster from last year, including the graduated Akeel St. Vil, the Brewers needed the returning talent in order to improve. However, according to Coach Brown, the team has not disappointed at all this year: “Players have stepped up and shown very good progress and performed with consistency so we have developed an identity and real shape. In particular, Nick Graham [’15], who moved from fullback to flyhalf, has been very good,” he wrote. “In addition, our young forwards have all put in some big performances and our fringe defense is vastly better than last year.”

Graham leads the team in points so far, with a total of 92 points. He has scored 31 tries and 10 pens. Second on the team is Jdaydani, having 50 points for his 10 tries.

Foley also explained the effect from the loss of players: “Losing players is always difficult, and we lost some size and experience in the pack. But the underclassmen have truly stepped up.” He continued, “Their dedication, combined with the excellent coaching of Tony Brown and Mark Griffiths, has filled the large gap the graduating ruggers left us with. However, I would also like to note that the ruggers from previous years left a precedence of excellence.”

Jdaydani also touched upon the roster. “We have bounced back really well from having lost all the players we did last year,” he wrote. “The young forwards really stepped up and demonstrated their knowledge of the game and commitment putting their bodies on the line for the team week in and week out.”

Looking forward with Nationals coming up, the team and coaches are confident. According to Jdaydani, “Having won the conference playoffs, we are confident about our chances in Nationals (Round of 16). We have proved ourselves capable of defeating a much larger and athletic team. I think everyone on the team is energized at the end of a very long and rough season for the great chance we have to prove ourselves on a national stage.”

Coach Brown reiterated much of the same, saying that, “The team has steadily improved and overcome some injuries that perhaps in the past might have derailed the team. We have a week to prepare for the USA Rugby Championship Round of 16. We do not yet know our opponent but I feel the team is confident in what we do and how we play.” According to Coach Brown, preparation for Nationals has been the same as it has been all season. Jdaydani, when asked about the practice schedule, said, “Rugby is a Varsity club sport and with many of the players maintaining commitments outside the sport (theater performances, VRDT, clubs, house team, etc.) we have a practice schedule of three two-hour practices a week at the beautiful farm.”

Both Jdaydani and Foley had effusive praise for one another. Regarding Jdaydani, Foley said, “[Jdaydani] has done a great job of leading the team on and off the field this semester.” In reference to Foley, Jdaydani said, “Foley’s contributions to the team have made a huge difference as he continually motivates the lads with his commitment and drive to win.” Both co-captains also wanted to make sure that the women’s team was congratulated for its recent success, qualifying for the National Final Four. As a whole, the Vassar College rugby program has attained incredible success. Coach Brown wants it known that it is through the players hard work, effort and attitude: “The students who represent Vassar College on the Rugby field certainly do deserve recognition for their hard work and results thus far and I am glad [they] are giving us the platform to do so.”

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