On a soggy unseasonably chilly day last May Belmont Rugby made history, toppling a Catholic school powerhouse and winning the Division 1 State Championship. The victory against Bishop Hendricken ended a season that exceeded expectations for many within the Club.
“We knew we had an experienced and talented team last year,” said Coach Derek Tommy. “What we saw was how well all the pieces came together as the season progressed. We kept building momentum and when we entered the playoffs we all believed that we could win the championship.”
That confidence shown through during Belmont’s impressive victory against the Rhode Island powerhouse.
“That game was the most physical game I’ve ever been a part of,” commented Pat O’Connor, a member of last year’s winning team. “I was so exhausted when it was over, but so excited.”
Fast forward eight months and Belmont Rugby was back at work, with players voluntarily working out, attending camps with national level coaches, and showing up to school at six in the morning for lifts in the dead of January’s cold.
The players this year are a mix of experienced veterans, raw athletes, and talented youngsters. Many of the upperclassmen have been playing since they were freshmen, while others, including a handful of seniors, are new to the sport this year.
“Some of these upperclassmen have been playing together for 3 or 4 years now. It’s really great to track the development of a freshman to a senior and it’s been great for the club,” said Coach and Belmont High School teacher Jesse Borle. “We also have a great group of new players from all grades, including some talented underclassmen we’re excited about.”
The season officially kicked off on March 3rd with the Club’s preseason mini-camp which included “rugby 101” for the newer players, a focus on fundamentals, and extra time on safety in contact.
With so many new players the challenge of teaching basics and developing veterans is a yearly struggle. Thankfully the Club was able to add a new member to the coaching staff, and an alumni at that, Gianpaolo Rufo.
“I’m really excited to be working with the Club as a coach. I had such a great experience when I was playing that I’m happy to be giving something back,” said Rufo, a member of Belmont’s inaugural competitive team in 2008.
Expectations are high, but the club realizes that it’s a new season and they now have the target on their backs.
“As defending champions we realize that all the other Division 1 clubs will be looking to knock us off,” commented Coach Greg Bruce. “We are taking nothing for granted and working very hard to encourage the team to take that approach.”
They have a difficult slate of games ahead of them, including three challenging road games against Xaverian High School, St. John’s Prep, who’ll surely be looking for revenge (Belmont ended their 6 year unbeaten streak last year), and a rematch of the 2013 state title game against Bishop Hendricken.
Couple these games with tough home match ups against Needham High School, Arlington Catholic and Boston College High School and the club realizes that they’ll need to work just as hard as last year, if not harder, to repeat.
“The league is challenging this year,” said Coach Adam Zilcoski. “All the Catholic schools are strong and Needham is a public school club that has been solid for many years. We are confident in our skill & abilities, but know we have to prepare for each match and not get caught looking ahead.”
The club adopted two mantras this year, both adapted from the New Zealand All Blacks, the world’s best rugby team.
The first, “sweep the shed” reminds players of the importance of the Club and that every member has a part to play.
“We need everyone to be ready, be part of the Club and do the tough work on and off the field,” said senior Barrett Lyons.
The other mantra, “champions do a little bit extra” is a nod to the extra effort required to win a title.
“Last year we worked really hard. We know we’ll have to work harder this year. A lot of guys have been putting in a ton of effort on their own,” said returning starter Nick Pearson.
Title runs and championship defenses aside, the coaches remind the players of the most important mantra.
“We tell the players, every day, have fun,” remarks Coach Bruce. “This is the best sport out there and we want every player to have a memorable, enjoyable experience.”
The Club will officially kick off their campaign against a new opponent, Kearsage High School from New Hampshire. Kick off is 7pm on March 28th at Harris Field in Belmont. Admission is free.
For more information, including a full schedule with dates & times, check out the Club’s website: www.belmonthighschoolrugby.com and on Twitter @BelmontHSRugby.