The East Coast Rugby Conference kicks off this weekend with one small change in the lineup of teams, and plenty of questions.
Southern Connecticut is out, having moved to DII, but the big questions are, can Middlebury and Boston College hold off a challenge from Northeaster, and is everyone really, really worried about AIC?
Middlebury and Boston College, who tied with the best record in the fall of 2012 at 6-1, should be considered front-runners again. (Middlebury won the league on bonus points.) But Northeastern was right behind them.
“It’s too early to tell where we are,” said Middlebury Coach John Phillips. “We had a good start in our warmup game, but we’ll see.”
Middlebury took on Ivy League power Dartmouth in the Granite Cup, and lost in overtime on a game they could have won on a penalty kick. Middlebury are without captain and RUGBYMag All American Brian Sirkia, who was a crucial part of their success both as a leader and a goalkicker. But flanker Griffin Jones, who was all-ECRC as a freshman, should be back as will now-junior No. 8 Laird Silsby.
Middlebury takes on UMass, who were 2-5 last season, on Saturday.
Northeastern is hoping to build on a solid showing at the CRC 7s tournament in June, but they know it’s going to be tough.
“It is a tough league,” said Head Coach Jamie Green. “There are a number of solid teams, any of whom could win it. We are very excited about this upcoming season. We have a solid team that continues to embrace the ‘Maddog’ spirit of Northeastern Rugby.”
Diego Maquieira, Chris Frazier, Aaron Smith and Aaron Reich are back for another season after playing 7s during the summer for the Olympic Development Academy. How they use what they learned in 7s and adapt it to 15s will be a big factor in Northeastern’s success. Plenty of young players have joined the squad, also, and Shane Tyksinski will have to lead a newish backline as a result.
“Playing alongside a number of experienced players, we are hoping [the new players] gel well under pressure,” said Green.
Northeastern takes on AIC. American International College has a varsity setup with scholarship and significant administrative support. This gives them a leg up, but it didn’t in 2012, when AIC finished 3-4.
“We have some advantages, but those can be mitigated by the size of our school, and the longer history some other teams have,” said AIC head Coach Josh Macy.
AIC used to play in DIV, and some of those players are still on the team – part of the program’s astounding move upward. But now the majority of AIC is players with high school experience, so even the new young players have seen a rugby ball before.
“We’ve got new players coming from good high school programs,” said Macy. “So that helps. We love playing in this league, and this will be the first time that we’ve played the same group of teams in league play in two consecutive years. It’s a tough league, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Perry Street Pride HS All American Christian Adams is a potential star in the backline as a freshman, but it’s the upperclassmen Deshae Edwards and flyhalf Tyler Nawrocki who will be looked on to lead. Tighthead prop Jamal Hadley, all 280 pounds of him, and 6-5 lock forward Corey Momsen anchor the forwards.
Finally BC takes on Albany. Boston College has a new coach in Rob Conway, who played in the Irish RFU national academy and with University College, Dublin and Dungannon. Conway will take the backs and strength and conditioning while former USA prop Anthony Purpura is coaching the forwards.
They lose three all-conference seniors, but all-ECRC hooker Patrick Rockwell and all-ECRC lock forward Kyle McVicker return power up front.
Albany is a very New York-centric team. They don’t really recruit from far afield, but under Head Coach John Durant will be looking to improve on their 3-4 2012 record.
Week 1 ECRC
UMass @ Middlebury
Albany @ Boston College
AIC @ Northeastern