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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Rugby advances to national championship

The Hawks battle the University of Tennessee through the mud (Photo by Peter Curcio).

St. Joe’s rugby looks to establish national recognition

The St. Joe’s rugby team traveled to Bowling Green, Ohio for the first round of nationals where they met the University of Tennessee. The Hawks, ranked 14th, were projected to lose by 14 points to fourth ranked Tennessee. Playing on a field soaked from heavy rain the previous night, the Hawks fought through the mud to defeat Tennessee 13-10.

Sophomore Noah Niumataiwalu first put points on the board as he found a gap in the defense.

Sophomore Matt Lydon, a starter on the 23-man championship squad, said once the team got going, their nerves disappeared.

“All the guys were nervous going in,” Lydon said. “Once we got that first big hit in and we got that cold out of our blood we were just like ‘Wow we can actually do this’ and a dream became reality within five minutes.”

Moving onto the next game, St. Joe’s took down Bowling Green State University with a commanding 29-10 victory. The Hawks again came out with an early lead with a quick score from junior Chad McMahon. Niumataiwalu, Lydon, senior Chris Curcio and junior Mike Hoffman added points to the win.

The Hawks now move on to face the University of Mary Washington in Greenville, SC for the championship match. Beginning the season, the team would not have predicted to be playing in one of the biggest college rugby games in the country.

“If you told me I would be playing for a national championship in September I would tell you you’re crazy,” said Lydon.

The team had to undergo a plethora of obstacles to get to this point. They were one of the first teams to arrive on campus in the summer and their training and conditioning has been nothing short of top-tier.

“The guys have been training since late August when we started with a preseason camp and have been pushing all the way through with our training schedule,” said coach Daniel Yarusso.

Lydon added the team has been committed to training on the highest level which sets them apart.

“Our conditioning is on a different level, and I think a lot of teams can’t keep up with it,” said Lydon. “Lifting, eating and practicing and being on time – when you put in all those things it sets you apart from those other teams.”

Because the rugby team is a club sport, they have limited funding and are not recognized by the university as a varsity sport. However, the team hasn’t let this slow down their effort to compete on the highest levels.

With a lack of university funding, the team has relied on alumni, parents and personal fundraising to maintain a travel budget. They even shared a fundraising page on social media to raise money to bus to Ohio for nationals.

By competing on a national stage and creating a competitive program, the team has been able to attract high school talent despite not being able to offer scholarships.

“Although we are currently not able to offer a dedicated rugby scholarship we have been actively recruiting high school players,” said Yarusso.

According to Lydon, being able to play in the nationally televised Collegiate Rugby Championship, held in the summer at Talen Energy Stadium just outside Philadelphia, attracts potential players.

Lydon also attributes team camaraderie to their success.

“We’re all just best friends,” Lydon said.“Walking around campus you’ll never see a rugby guy not with another rugby guy. Spending so much time with each other, it brings in a trust factor.”

The Hawks come into the national championship final with a chip on their shoulder – looking to prove that despite being a small school and a club program, they can compete with other elite college programs.

“We are looking to prove that we can play with the best and can be a very successful team even if we were to move up to DI-A,” said co-captain junior Jimmy Wolfer.

Currently, the team is in the DI-AA – the top division in the second best conference.

The team has been discussing how to get a higher club status in order to get more funding.

“That’s our main goal to get elevated status, to have enough funding to be in the correct conference and to travel,” said Lydon. “We’re getting the school national recognition. It’s a great opportunity not just for us a rugby team, but for us as a school.”

Team members believe that winning championships will create the necessary publicity needed for rugby to establish a stronger presence.

“As for the program, I think the biggest takeaway from winning this game is validation,” junior co-captain George Harris said.“Winning this game would mean that all of the hard work we’re putting into this team means something. It would put St. Joe’s rugby on the map. It would mean we’ve done it. We’ve arrived.”

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