Burlington is in the middle of an impressive campaign in the New England Laurence Division. They went 4-0 against Laurence opponents and are fresh off a lopsided win in their first cross-division match against Newport. They have two games left separating them from a perfect fall record and another run at the postseason.
Burlington finished second in its division last season and advanced to the playoffs, but did so with just 17 players and were knocked out earlier than they’d hoped.
“We recruited aggressively in the winter and held a nice social gathering for the boys just to put awareness out there and then in the spring we started playing flag rugby just between ourselves and a lot of high school kids,” said Burlington coach Junior Tuiqere.
“And their friends started coming in and their older friends started coming in. The high school kids went back to school and their friends stuck around.”
Through that, and a healthy dose of college graduates, Burlington has built its program. The state of Vermont has five rugby-playing colleges in the Univ. of Vermont, Middlebury, Norwich, St. Michael’s and Johnson State, as well as a good employment rate.
“In the last two years there were jobs in Vermont, so most of those kids stuck around and kept playing from all those colleges,” said Tuiqere. “I’m really fortunate because of all those universities and all those coaches that have coached these kids. When they get off the car to come to our training, they already have knowledge of rugby.”
And then there’s the team’s No. 8, Lance Triebel, who came to the game in a more unique way. He moved from Philadelphia to Vermont for work and started dating a rugby player’s sister, and the brother introduced him to the game. In his first year, Triebel won both the team MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.
Burlington is also blessed to have Kevin O’Brien, coach of the 1991 Eagles team that won the Women’s Rugby World Cup, involved.
“He’s technically sound in a big way, and he critiques the kids’ play,” said Tuiqere. “He’s almost like the chief engineer of a garage. There’s guys that fix the car, there’s guys that come and fine tune little things, and I think he, to me, he is a really, really good asset to have. He’s helped me a lot as a coach and helped the players a lot in a big way, to refine their skills.”
Burlington has the ingredients for postseason success – coaching, youth and depth. Like last year, they’ll lose a few guys this fall to the skiing season, but this time, they’ll be better equipped to handle the attrition.