Rugby teams find success on state championship pitch
Three months ago, the members of the West Allegheny Rugby Club were strangers to the sport. Now, they are the RugbyPA league state champions.
The first-year program, established and coached by West Allegheny assistant football coach Mark Davis, defeated Narbeth Rugby Football Club, 59-24, to claim the state championship in the Division 2 U19 bracket. The state title victory capped an undefeated 8-0 campaign for a team that, according to Davis, only got better as the season progressed.
The kids have only been playing two and a half months,” Davis said. “They just continued to learn and get better. It really started to click for them, they made great plays and started to understand the game more, and it really showed in that final game.
“We actually really played our best game of the season in the championship.”
West Allegheny jumped out to a 40-7 lead by the half. Junior Sean Orsini, who plays the 8-man position, and freshman flanker Matt Holmes set the tone early with their physical tackling and imposing presence, helping to suffocate Narbeth’s offensive output. Sophomore outside center Terence Stephens and team captain and flyhalf Jed Buck led the scoring charge with lengthy runs and key passing. Junior Christian Stout converted clutch kicks at tough angles to bolster the scoring attack.
“We have great kids — they are so coachable and respectful,” Davis said. “They handle themselves in the right way; they understand how to be classy even though it’s a physical game.”
Another local team that has found success on the rugby pitch this season is Central Catholic, which entered the state championship tournament ranked second in the high school division. The team competed in a different division than West Allegheny but found similar success in the regular season, going 6-0, while surrendering only three points in that span.
Despite losing its state semifinals matchup, 38-14, against St. Joe’s Prep of Philadelphia coach Lou Lamanna is proud of what his team has accomplished in only its second full season of play.
“The kids fought hard, and they fought until the bitter end,” Lamanna said. “We were tough this year; the kids played typical Western Pa.-style defense. We’ve only been around for a couple of years competing, but the kids have come a long way.”
Lamanna’s club has 27 ruggers on its roster, 18 of whom had never played rugby before this season.
“We have kids from all walks of life, and we really embrace it,” he said. “We have kids from the band on our team, kids that were in the spring musical. It’s an interesting brotherhood, rugby is. You find out a lot about yourself, and the sport promotes tremendous sportsmanship.”
West Allegheny and Central Catholic’s coaches hope the successes they’ve found will inspire more local interest in the sport.
“I think with rugby being in the Olympics in 2016, and all the success and passion that local teams have had, I think there’s more people willing to put in the time and get involved in it,” Davis said. “I think, yeah, the sport is going to grow.”
Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.