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Varsity Rugby Cats Start Season off with Road Losses in Tough Conditions

By Jacob Novak '19, 02/27/19, 3:15PM EST


The JV Cats of Kevin Snider '12 was the lone team to earn a win over Gonzaga.

The Saint Ignatius High School rugby team officially kicked off its 2019 campaign over the weekend in our nation’s capital in a meeting with fellow Jesuits of Washington D.C., Gonzaga College High School. This was the second straight year that the Wildcats had traveled to D.C. to begin their season.

While the matches were originally scheduled to be hosted at Mount Saint Mary’s College in upstate Maryland, particularly icy temperatures and high rainfall resulted in their grass fields being unavailable at the last second.

This weekend, 100 rugby cats ventured down to our nation's capital to challenge Gonzaga College High School on their home turf. The teams departed from Ohio City on Friday at around 2:30 p.m. and headed down to D.C. On the way down, assistant coach Brian White ’92 and the boys played 30-second music trivia. After about an hour and a half of Whitey’s games, the team watched Molly’s Game a movie from 2017. Ironically, this was the story of a young athlete whose career didn’t work out. Looking for relevance, she started an illegal gambling ring. We’ll have Mr. Franzinger paying particular attention to the cameras for the next few weeks.

 After the movie, we stopped at a rest stop and grabbed food and drinks for the four hours we had left until we reached Hagerstown, Maryland. Once we arrived in Hagerstown, we ate then went to our room for a while, but then most went to the pool. After some fun, the Wildcats regrouped and then went quietly back to their rooms for the night. Meanwhile, Gonzaga would have the luxury of playing at home with several games already under the belt and an extra training session before the match.

Refreshed and ready, the Cats embarked on their buses and went into D.C.

“We typically look to go South at the beginning of our schedule in late February and early March,” said Head Coach Arbeznik ‘00. “‘Spring sports’ is such a misnomer in our part of the world where it’s common to have snow through much of April if not all of February and March.”

Perhaps it was a portent of the future, but the Wildcats would have no such luck in making the 7-hour bus trip south. While temperatures reached a balmy 50 degrees in Cleveland on Saturday, conditions in DC had deteriorated to 38º with rain.  While on the bus, we heard the good news that the JV team were victorious in their contest, giving the varsity squad some confidence. Upon our arrival at Gonzaga, I was personally amazed at how it was just this little Jesuit gem tucked inside the capital

The team taped up and hyped up for the season opener. The Wildcats went onto the pitch and warmed up before kicking off the first game of the season.

Things didn’t go right for the A-side from the beginning. Inside center Michael Mangan was lost in the opening minutes to a sprained ankle. While the gameplan had been to kick away possession in order to play defensive rugby in Gonzaga’s end, the Wildcats struggled to manage field position properly. They found themselves on the wrong end of the referee’s whistle six straight times to consistently gift territory to the Eagles. Penalties after penalties in addition to handling errors allowed Gonzaga to take a lead into the half. The Wildcats trailed after one, 22-5, with senior Jack Rolf ’19 scoring the first try of the season.

The scenario repeated in the second half. Junior Thomas Maloney scoring the second try for the Cats, but the visitors could not mount a comeback. The A-side was defeated, 34-12, at full time. In the end, the Wildcats committed 12 penalties and had 38 unforced offensive errors.

The B-side game was up next. Senior fullback Nick Vitou ‘19 opened up the contest with his first try of the season to place the Wildcats ahead, 7-0. Gonzaga opened up the second half by scoring to tie up the game. The Cats struggled to find defensive continuity and gaps began to open up. Gonzaga utilized a second-half surge (along with a liberal substitution policy). During the final five minutes, the Wildcats found themselves pinned down in their own 22 and were defending successfully for two minutes. But then a missed non-releasing penalty allowed Gonzaga to score the game-winning try. Gonzaga won a 14-7 contest against the B-side Cats.

It was a missed opportunity for the 2019 Cats. While Gonzaga certainly committed their fair share of mistakes, the hosts did a much better job of managing field position. Gonzaga’s errors were made in their own end, while the Cats struggled to get any sort of kicking game going.

“There are some good takeaways from this for us,” said Arbeznik. “Most of our starting 15 hadn’t seen any significant playing time at the A-side level last year. Some of that came through today. These are correctable errors. The guys just need game experience together.”

Coach Tony Vegh ‘73 and his freshmen group played the first match of the season at Gallaudet University, falling 5-0 to the Eagles. While the result wasn’t what the group had hoped for, the Wildcats can take much solace in knowing that the chances were there. A lack of practice time and game knowledge kept the Cats off the board. But time is on their side. The young freshman class is the largest ever at the school, with over 35 players suiting up for action this year. Spearheaded by Rookie Rugby players like Timmy Putka, Marty Leneghan, Bobby Voth, Sean Lipaj, Isaac Gingerich, Colin Vollmer, Sean Ward, Brody Kocon, Dominic Rosson, Brian Keane, Jack Dulik, Shane O’Brien, George Pofok, Marek Shannon, and Sean Coughlin this group promises to be one to watch over the next four years.

The sole victory on the weekend came from Coach Kevin Snider’s JV side. With tries from Ashauni Suhak, Fielding Carlson, and Gavin Moore, the sophomores took down Gonzaga’s JV side, 24-5, in the opener at Gallaudet.

Although the Cats failed to find the results (or weather) they were looking for, there were plenty of bright spots on the weekend. Coach White proved once again to be entertainer extraordinaire on bus trips. Waxing between song trivia and history trivia, Coach White kept the team entertained for hours. Michael Mangan led a round of the “Rattlin Bog,” while the rest of the bus took their first go at the 2019 team song … an ode to the front row ... Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed (Props).”

With well below freezing temperatures settling on Cleveland this week, the team will be off this weekend. Next up is a triple-header with the No. 6 team in the country, Fishers High School out of Indianapolis at Dublin Coffman HS in Columbus. We’ll hope for favorable weather (if not more favorable results).