Coming off of years of success and a run at the national tournament, the Brewers felt confident that after surviving a conference play undefeated, they would have an equally remarkable postseason run. But on Nov. 9, in Fairfield, Conn., their season came to a disappointing end as Fairfield University won the conference title by a margin of 50 to 14.
The season opened with a rocky start, a loss to a Division I team: the United States Merchant Marine Academy. But the men’s rugby team quickly reined it in and started finding their footing. “It was a strong season overall,” said junior prop, Adam D’Agostino, “Obviously we didn’t go as far as we would have liked. I’d say we had good improvement from the incoming freshmen and sophomores and the starting team (mostly comprised of juniors and seniors) had a strong showing. We had a couple of shutouts which was nice. And we had some sizable wins.” The Brewers’ first shoutout was in late September, as they beat Sienna College 74-0. This winning streak continued, and in early October, the men beat Union College 43-0. They had their largest margin of victory against SUNY New Paltz, with an 89-3 win. “Overall,” said Winton, “a solid season with a lot to build on but also a lot to be proud of.”
The team was aided by some new faces this season in freshmen Joseph Simon from Van Nuys, CA, and George Shepard, a native of the UK. “We had a lot of great contributions from freshmen,” said Winton, “Joseph Simon was excellent all year.” While talent from individuals aided in the team’s success, all of the players attribute it to their coaches; “I think for a lot of it we have to give credit to our coaches: Tony Brown and Mark Griffiths,” said senior wing Kenta Hasui, “They really know the game of rugby really well. They’re our biggest asset on the team. They really drill us on doing the simple things, the basic things right. Before we do any fancy passes or try to run around people we have to tackle really well, we need to hold onto the ball, and we need to ruck really well. And they drill that into us. And I think that has been a huge part of our success; being disciplined and doing the grunt work.”
New York native D’Agostino agreed saying, “It comes down to great coaching. Tony and Mark are awesome. They really put together a system that helps us cut through defenses and score a lot of points. And our offense is really what shone this year. We were able to put up a lot of points each game, maxing out at I believe 89 against New Paltz. So really a very dynamic offense really put us through and an intelligent style of rugby.”
The Brewers’ successful regular season record culminated in a conference title match against Fairfield, a team who had also found success in regular season play. Defense had been identified as the weakest part of their game entering the title match, and it did not serve them well. Winton gave his summary of the game as such; “Fairfield is a great team and we knew all year that our issue going in was was defense and tackling. So, throughout the year we know that we had enough ball, we’ve had enough possession that it didn’t cause as big of a problem, but Fairfield is the kind of team that is a much higher quality team. A very high quality team and was able to exploit those weaknesses that we knew we had. We really dominated possession of the ball, we had a lot of possession and while we had the ball we really looked very solid and we looked like a better team, we looked very dangerous and we looked in a good position. And then the little bit of possession that Fairfield had they were really able to capitalize on. So missed tackles were a problem and that’s really what did us in.”
D’Agostino offered a similar explanation, saying, “Where we went wrong was we weren’t able to finish with our tackling. Which had been a bit of an issue all season. They were able to smother our offense.” The Brewers also struggled staying healthy leading up to the championship. Players tried their best to fill in positions, but ulitmately it came back to hurt them in the end. “It was a tough game also because of how many injuries we’ve had, so we’ve had to do a lot of positional switching around, putting people in new places,” said Hasui, “And I think that also showed a little bit. Our starting back line, most of them were out with injuries, so we had to put in some stop gap measures for that too, myself included. I had to move from the forwards to the back line…So we had been a little beat up during that week so we didn’t have a lot of time tackling that week and I think that made a bit of a difference. We weren’t as sharp in the tackles as we should have been and that came back to hurt us in the end” he added.
The team kept their determined attitude even after a tough loss. “Even when we got down a good amount though, we kept fighting. And we got an extra score in the end. So I’m proud of our team for that,” said Hasui. The Brewers plan to build on their 2014 performance and continue to meet and exceed their goals, “And I think it was good, especially for the rookies and the underclassmen, the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to see that if you put in that kind of work you will see success. ” said Hasui.
Upon thinking about his favorite moments of the past season, D’Agostino laughed before he explained the team chemistry; “There’s way too many to chose from. Ultimately to me, it was a great season, because the seniors this season were guys who I’ve played with since freshman year, both B side and A side. I feel like we grew up together. So really, it’s a culmination of everything we’ve worked on for three years. It was just a privilege to play with them for this fall.”