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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

‘Find something to play for’

Noah Niumataiwalu points to the St. Joe’s crowd after scoring a try in the Collegiate Rugby Championship – a cross and “MD15” written on his wrist tape (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

Colleges rally behind St. Joe’s to unite rugby community

An assembly of college athletes, along with their fans flooded Talen Energy Stadium just outside Philadelphia in Chester, PA this weekend for the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC). St. Joe’s was one of 24 men’s teams competing in the ninth-annual tournament.

On the field the players ripped at each other’s jerseys and went in for hard tackles – knocking opponents to the grass, drawing blood and dripping sweat in the nearly 90 degree weather. But in the corridors of the stadiums concrete halls there wasn’t a hint of animosity – only mutual respect.

St. Joe’s co-captain Jimmy Wolfer said when they saw the Temple team, they gave them the “down-low” on one of their matchups to help them out.

“You want to see the Philly schools do just as well – I mean we’d love for us to do better,” Wolfer said with a laugh. “But it’s good to see a couple wins for them.”

Fans at Talen Energy Stadium for the Collegiate Rugby Championship (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

The Hawks went in hoping to win a piece of hardware, but ultimately fell to Army in the Plate Semi-Final game. Despite coming up short of their goal, the St. Joe’s players soaked in the electric atmosphere from their loyal fans as they displayed their skills in the nationally televised tournament.

St. Joe’s Junior Noah Niumataiwalu scored the first try in the team’s matchup against Mount Saint Mary’s College on Saturday. After scoring, he pointed to the roaring fan section of Hawks fans – on the tape around his wrist, “MD15” and a cross were drawn in black marker.

The initials and the number 15 have become a common symbol across the rugby community in honor of St. Joe’s freshman rugby player Mark Dombroski who tragically died last March while in Bermuda for a tournament.

At the CRC, filled by a rowdy bunch of rugby fans, the stadium came to a stinging silence during a moment to honor Dombroski. The seven St. Joe’s players on the field stood shoulder to shoulder with their thumbs in the air.

“Our coach told us before the game, Mark was always smiling and the thumbs up was his thing, so we gave a thumbs up to the crowd,” Niumataiwalu said. “That moment was special. You could almost hear your own heartbeat.”

St. Joe’s players give a thumbs up during a moment of silence for Mark Dombroski (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).

The summer rugby championship season was Dombroski’s favorite time of year. He played alongside Nimulanati and Nick Udovich, now a sophomore at West Chester University, in the high school CRC for Archmere Academy.

“We always discuss what are we playing for – find something to play for, what’s your why? – and I always think about Mark,” Udovich said.

Udovich said he’s found joy in searching for the bigger meaning of the sport beyond the fierce competition.

“That’s really what Mark embodied when he played rugby,” Udovich said. “He was the first to go talk to the team we just lost to or the team we just beat, just making friends, making connections with people around the rugby community.  I feel like I’m apart of that [St. Joe’s] family even though I’m not. And we’re supposed to be rivals, but in a time like that everybody comes together. It’s really just been like one family.”

This past weekend, “MD15” could be seen written across the wrist tape, cleats and armbands of teams across the country – amongst them a coach from the University of Arizona and players on Rowan University. The championship MVP trophy was also named in his honor.

The St. Joe’s teammates hesitate to use the past tense when referring to Dombroski. For them, his spirit is very much alive as he continues to stir their inner drive.

“Today when I was dead tired, those were the times I’d just give it to Mark and let him run,” Niumataiwalu said. “He loves playing in front of a crowd, he loves that big stage, and he always shines bright.”

The St. Joe’s fans turned out in numbers. Amongst them was Dombroski’s family.

Right before walking from the practice field into the tunnel prior to their game, Niumataiwalu saw Dombroski’s brother “JJ” and his father.

“We gave them a fist bump and a hug before the game,” Niumataiwalu said. “It was really nice seeing them right before because that’s what it’s all about.”

St. Joe’s rugby players warming up on the practice field (Photo by Luke Malanga ’20).
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