From 2004-2009, Rocky Gorge endured six-consecutive losing seasons, winning less than three MARFU DII-South matches in all but one of those years. But just as 2010 is about to come to a close, Rocky Gorge is a perfect 5-0 in league play and sits alone at the top of the South Division.
“The turnaround was just commitment,” explained Rocky Gorge coach Chuck Moore. “The guys, prior to this season, were kind of just playing rugby to play rugby and they got tired of losing, to be honest with you, and were like, ‘Alright, let’s commit and do something.’ They knew they had the talent and athletic ability to do it, so really it just had to do with commitment.”
The discussion about truly commiting to winning actually took place prior to the 2009 season, but words didn’t turn into action until Moore revisited the issue this offseason.
“We sat down and talked and said, ‘Here’s our goals, and here’s what we need to do to meet our goals’…and the first year we didn’t meet our goals, and I had set out a three-year plan and we weren’t on track for it,” said Moore.
“I told the guys, ‘This is what you guys wanted. You guys aren’t putting the commitment out, and you’re not doing it. If you guys don’t want to do it, if you don’t want to be a good team, then let’s stop playing around and move down to DIII.”
Moore’s words stuck, but Rocky Gorge’s success this fall wasn’t just the direct result of a rah-rah speech. The Laurel, Md. club has also been the benefactor of some recently graduated talent from DII collegiate power Salisbury. Andrew Kendall, Matt Carroll and CJ Dyson are all Sharks who’ve made a difference for Rocky Gorge this season, but the Salisbury grad who’s made maybe the biggest impact, Matt Burns, is an old friend of the club.
“He was in our U19 program and went to Salisbury and came back just this last year,” said Moore. “He was a huge help and actually became our team captain. He’s been a great re-addition to the team.”
Seeing the investment in U19 rugby and rededication to winning produce tangible results on the field has restored Moore's confidence in both himself and the club he's been a part of as a player and/or coach for 15 years.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't sure if I was goin to keep going, because I wasn't sure if I was doing a good job until they showed the commitment and we started to get stuff done," he said. "To see the turnaround has been great."
If Rocky Gorge wants to parlay its resurgence into a National playoff run, they’ll need to overcome another hurdle; the MARFU-North. The last team to make it to the Sweet 16 from the South was Norfolk in 2008, and no team currently in the DII South has made is since the Washington Irish did so back in 2002.
Moore knows the North is a tough division and that his team hasn’t fared well against it in recent years, but this is the new Rocky Gorge.
“From top to bottom in that division, they’re all tough teams,” said the coach. “I don’t know where they get those guys from, but they’re all about the same. None of them are huge, none of them are small, they’re all about the same size and they just run like trucks. We played Brandywine last year and they smoked us pretty good in their playoff run, but we’re a different team now.”