Entering the 2020 season, Dan Arbeznik ’00 transformed his team’s strategy.
Traditionally, the Wildcats play a physical, bruising brand of rugby with touches of finesse. With a physically smaller squad this season, the Rugby Cats’ head coach decided to switch to more of a speed game with a dash of physicality.
The early results are quite promising. In Saturday’s season opener, the Wildcats usurped the preseason kings of the country, the Gonzaga Eagles, 24-15.
“This is definitely an upset,” said Arbeznik. “With a lot of fresh faces in our lineup, as coaches, we had no idea how we would do. We did really well today.”
From the start, the No. 10 Wildcats looked like the superior team. The 3-hour bus ride to California University of Pennsylvania seemed to have no negative impact on the Clevelanders. The Rugby Cats possessed the ball for much of the first half and controlled the game with their speed.
The Wildcats played a tempo game in the opening frame, controlling the ball well and passing it effectively. Tommy Maloney helped to open things right, tallying two tries in the early goings. Bobby Voth notched both conversions with ease to set the Wildcats ahead, 14-5.
In the later stages of the half, the Wildcats put more points on the board. Thanks in part to inopportune penalties by Gonzaga, the Wildcats continued to hold onto the ball. Chris Mathews touched the ball down late in the half, and Voth put the ball through the posts on the conversion for a 21-5 advantage heading into the break.
“We were really focusing on increasing the tempo of our play. Our guys did a nice job of playing tempo,” Arbeznik said. “Gonzaga got on the wrong side of the penalty count. They were constantly offsides for much of the first half because they couldn’t deal with the pace.”
In a reversal of the first half, Gonzaga controlled the tempo in the second frame. A few Saint Ignatius mistakes allowed the Eagles back into the game.
With the Wildcats on the defensive, Gonzaga took advantage. The squad from the District of Columbia tallied two tries onto the board in the second half. However, the Wildcats were not losing this one. Voth tacked on a penalty kick to ensure the victory, setting the final margin at 24-15.
“Offensively, Mathews and Maloney played quite well. Voth made a huge impact with 9 points – 3 conversions and 1 penalty kick, all made without a doubt. He’s worked hard all offseason,” Arbeznik said. “Defensively, Jake Daley played very well. He had 3-6 tackles in the second half. I also have to thank Coach Sullivan, as Danny Strauchon wrestled a bit during the offseason, and it’s made a difference. Danny was extremely impactful with the defense – he really stepped up. Marty Lenehan and Fielding Carlson also had big games for us.”
Beyond the clutch efforts by so many Wildcats, an extra advantage helped the team – the Carfagna Family Magis Athletic Center.
“Thank God for the MAC. And also, for Kyle and McLaughlin Fields,” Arbeznik said. “We did so much prep work in the Magis Center that would have been impossible before. Back in the day, we would practice at Edgewater Park. You can’t do as much out there in the mud, wind, rain, and snow. Practicing in the Magis Center made us much better.”
The win provides a big boost for a young Wildcats squad early in the season. It’s certainly a confidence-builder.
The other two Wildcats squads also earned victories. The JV Cats squeaked out a 22-20 conquest and the freshmen (developmental) team churned out a 24-12 win.
Next up for the Wildcats is Avon Lake. The Rugby Cats and Shoremen will do battle next Sunday at 2 pm on Wasmer Field. The two teams were originally scheduled to play on Saturday. The SIBN will have coverage live from Ohio City.