Delaware is making its Collegiate Rugby Championship debut this June as one of 15 invited teams. In 2011, the Blue Hens made the trip to Las Vegas to try and win their way into the 2011 CRC. They got close, falling to rival Kutztown in the semifinals. Emerging from that tournament as a star for Delaware was Jimmy Kowalski.
A Xavier (NY) grad, Kowalski has been playing rugby for championships since high school. But he broke his jaw in January, sidelining him for the entire DI-A 15s season. He will be back on the field for the Blue Hens in Philadelphia.
“Since I was cleared a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been training for 7s. I’ve been running, working on my sprinting, cutting and building all my leg strength back up,” Kowalski told RUGBYMag. “I’ll be (100-percent) soon. I’m not there, yet. My fitness level has definitely increased, but it still needs more work.)
With his mouth wired shut for the first couple of weeks of recovery, Kowalski dropped 30 pounds.
“I feel a lot quicker, actually, if that makes sense,” he said. “Losing a little weight, I feel like I got another step back in me or something.”
He says he’s packed 20-25 pounds back on and will be every bit as explosive when as he was before the injury by the first kickoff at PPL Park.
When a couple of dozen teams competed in the first-ever CRC qualifier tournament in Las Vegas, the invitations to that year’s main event hadn’t been decided, yet. Delaware is the first team to compete in a qualifier, not win, and be invited. The Blue Hens are grateful for the opportunity.
“Knowing that now I’m going to be in this huge tournament on television, it’s a dream come true, to be honest,” said Kowalski.
“People think of Delaware, they don’t really think of us as a big school, but we get to play teams like Oklahoma and Cal. I’ve never got to play Cal before. I’d love to play them, get the challenge to play them.”
If Delaware does line up across from Cal, Kowalski will likely be lining up across from former Xavier teammate and current Cal All American Seamus Kelly. For two years, they started next to each other in the Xavier midfield, Kelly at inside center and Kowalski at outside center.
“He’s a great kid. We’re great friends, but we know off the field we’re great friends. On the field we’re going to be very competitive, and we both want to win,” said Kowalski of Kelly.
“That’s always been goals for both of us. Being at Xavier, we had great teams there, we had great chemistry. Me and him were starters together for two years, and we just worked off each other so much. We both just want to win, and it’d be awesome to play against him.”
Delaware has several fantastic players outside of Kowalski, like Pat Goldring and 15s wing Mitch Vannoy. The Blue Hens have been squeezing in a weekly 7s practice during 15s season, and they'll go full bore with 7s after Delaware's April 28 game against Ohio State. Kowalski thinks they could surprise some teams in Philly.
“We’re taking it very serious. I feel like we’re going to be underdogs, and no one’s going to know what’s going to hit them,” he said. “I’m very confident we’ll get on this stage and show what we can do.”