North Bay is making moves, and the club’s goals go beyond the DIII championship toward which they’re playing this weekend. The 15-year-old club has evolved from a largely social team to one breeding success with its youth program and looking for bigger challenges in division II.
Coach Chris Powell is at the center of the makeover. He helped formed the club’s U19 program in addition to a local high school team (The John Carroll School), which he coached from 2002-2012 and led to the national championships. Those guys went to college and then followed their former coach back to North Bay, where Powell now resides.
The infusion of younger players created an interesting dynamic, with teammates ranging in age from 19 to 52. On one end of the spectrum, North Bay has leaders like captain Ed Mikhail, a vocal leader who ensures everything runs smoothly. He’s well supported by outstanding veterans like Gardner Thompson and Dave Faimanifo (who played with Powell on DI’s Baltimore a few years ago). On the opposite end of the spectrum are youngsters like Andrew Seufert, who has made great strides in his second season at flyhalf, and Gregory Keatts as an up-and-coming inside center.
Despite the generation gap, the team bonded over hard work. With increased numbers, practices became very competitive and helped drive a 10-0 league season. North Bay averaged a 50-7 winning margin throughout the fall.
As the team looked ahead to MARFU playoffs, North Bay scheduled spring friendlies against DII teams to mimic the better competition that awaited them in playoffs. The uptick in talented opposition levied both positive and negative results.
“When you’re beating teams 50-7, your opponents aren’t really playing defense against you. You’re running right through them,” Powell said. “During our tune-up games [this spring], the defense stepped up, and we felt nicked up early in the season.”
At one point, North Bay was down six starters from the fall, and players were forced to step into new roles.
“Sure, frustration reared its head,” Powell said. “There’s a heavy sigh when another player goes down, and we feel like we’re never at full strength against these better teams. We’ve had to put this team together with duct tape and bubble gum, but we played through and it made us better. The guys filling have gone along without a hitch. We have quality depth now, and that’s going to pay long-term dividends.”
As the face of the team continued to change, Powell smartly adjusted North Bay’s game strategy to accommodate the on-field personnel.
“Since we’ve had so many injuries from last fall, we’ve had to evolve,” Powell said. “Last fall, we were a little faster with our pace, and we were able to swing the ball around more when everyone was healthy. Having lost some of our pace, we’re a little more forwards-oriented now.”
Powell isn’t worried about the team getting beat on speed, however, as he’s been building the squad toward their perceived weakness. The team’s confidence boost came against Virginia during MARFU playoffs.
“Virginia had made it to the final four and were highly touted,” Powell said. “Even though we were the higher seed and playing at home, we were the underdogs. But we won by 35 points, and the guys really started believing in themselves.”
North Bay enters the national DIII Round of 16 as MARFU’s #2 seed and face New York’s Old Blue (Empire champions) on Saturday.
“We’re very competitive,” Powell assured. “We have a lot of technique and fitness, and we stand a legit shot of faring well.”
If North Bay gets past Old Blue on Saturday, then the team will face the winner of Kalamazoo vs. Montgomery in the quarterfinals. But regardless of the outcome, the Maryland team will play in DII next year, eager to realize the benefits of investing in the club's longevity.