25th Anniversary Banquet Awards Recap
When Schuylkill River Rugby got together for our 25th Anniversary Banquet the focus of the evening was on the 22 members of the original 1995/96 team that were in attendance and the legacy that they built. That legacy includes making it to Division 1 within five years of being formed and only spending one season in Division 2 as the team progressed from Division 3 to Division 1 in a two year span. It also includes several top 10 finished Nationally between 7s and 15s due to our members’ commitment to success.
That commitment manifests itself in our Club’s three guiding principles: (1) We will always compete at the highest level available to us. (2) Politics will play no role in our selections and the best player will play no matter what. (3) We will never forfeit a match regardless of level. (It should be noted that B-Side matches used to be mandatory so this principle was very meaningful in the early days of the club when guys were committing to 160 minutes of rugby in a day).
These principles, and the commitment that they embody, has created a foundation of success for our club to continue to build on to this day. Our players are able to play, and succeed, at the highest levels of club 7s and 15s because of the legacy of the men who came before us. This manifests in success on the field for our teams collectively, and in our individual players regularly being chosen for select side play in 7s and 15s as well as several players getting an opportunity to play professionally in Major League Rugby.
In addition to honoring our past at the banquet we also honored our current top players and handed out the following awards:
D1 Back of the Year – Jack Ramirez
Jack played high school rugby for Roman Catholic before playing collegiately at Loyola in Baltimore. The coaches of those programs are Fred Koniecki and Matt Cipriano, two guys that we have a ton of respect for and who always prepare their players well for success down the road. Jack and Kyle Hegarty initially joined us for winter touch rugby and right away we knew that we potentially had two special players on our hands. After helping Loyola take 3rd in their division of the Collegiate Rugby Championship Jack joined us for summer 7s in 2019 and made an immediate impression on us from his first tournament onwards. In 15s he is a tough and athletic outside back that tied for the team lead in tries with Ben Janssen and since joining our club he has also had an opportunity to make his first appearance for the Atlantis 7s side that won Barbados 7s last December.
Fun Fact: Jack Ramirez is a certified tiger handler.
D1 Forward of the Year – Ben Janssen
Ben Janssen’s defense, work rate, and support play is so ridiculously good that he tied for the Division 1 lead in tries scored this season, and was the leading try scorer from the forwards pack last season, and still isn’t known/considered for his offensive prowess. It just simply isn’t discussed. He scores plenty of tries in 7s, and had a huge second half try for Philadelphia United in their comeback victory over the Capital Selects but because of the fact that he makes such an incredible share of the tackles when he is on the field the first thing anyone will tell you about Ben is his commitment and defense.
Fun Fact: Ben’s dog Vlad is our official club mascot.
Special Mention – Ryan Tower
Before getting into the D3 awards it should be noted that although not an award winner this year Ryan Tower was singled out by Coach Chris Bailey at the awards banquet for his communication and leadership. Coach Bailey specifically mentioned how much easier Ryan makes his job and his commitment to our club has been hugely beneficial to us throughout the years. We’ve told this story before but it bears mentioning again – in the 2019 MAC playoffs against NOVA Ryan broke his hand (and it was fairly obvious) towards the end of the match but instead of leaving us down a man he stayed on the field and actually managed to score his first D1 try. It was an impressive display of grit from a guy that embodies everything we want this club to stand for.
Fun Fact: Ryan Tower might be the club’s single worst karaoke performer.
Bonus Fun Fact: During the COVID shutdown Ryan Tower has turned his property into an opossum sanctuary.
D3 Back of the Year – Dave Gross
Dave Gross is strong with the ball in hand and always does a good job of breaking the gain line to put our offense on the front foot. He is equally capable of playing in the centers or as a loose forward and truly shined last season as the defensive leader in the backline. He makes things much easier for our wings and fullback who can maintain their defensive depth knowing that Dave will tackle the opposing outside center and prevent a break out wide.
Fun Fact: Dave Gross and Ryan Tower played their college rugby for Millersville which is known as “the house that Greg Mininger built.”
D3 Forward of the Year – Ryan McHugh
Ryan McHugh is closer to the end of his competitive rugby days than the beginning and we really can’t thank him enough for still being willing and able to play competitive rugby at 41 years of age. His veteran experience is extremely helpful to our D3 players as they develop on the pathway towards playing Division 1 rugby. One thing that isn’t going away with age is Ryan’s innate ability to pick incredible attacking lines and spark the offense. With his try against Old Blue in March Ryan earned the distinction of scoring tries in 4 separate decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s) which is an awesome achievement and really well deserved. Ryan joined our club in the fall of 2016 and has managed to win an award every year since.
Fun Fact: Ryan has been the EPRU’s second best lineout jumper throughout his career and there’s a theory that he’s trying to play longer than Randy so he can claim the top spot.
15s Breakout Player – Chase Haberstroh
Chase Haberstroh provides an immense physical presence and he made a strong impression on our new coaching staff with his motor around the field. Chase was a standout in a group of loose forwards that make up one of the strengths of our team and his willingness to role up his sleeves and do the dirty work makes life a lot easier for the rest of his teammates. He’s the sort of tough player who shows up to do his job with a lunch pail mentality that every team can benefit from.
Fun Fact: Prior to joining Skill Rugby Chase was an armadillo rancher in Texas.
Holmes Harbson Coaches’ Award – Brian Keown
Brian Keown shows up and does his job every day without complaining. The St. Joe’s Prep product has an incredible feel for the game to go along with his skillset and he makes everyone around him better. His leadership style is to come out ready to play and get the job done properly which is something that has earned him a ton of respect from his teammates and throughout the Union. As a low maintenance star the coaching staff can rely on Brian Keown to set the tone and help lead the way. In the 2018-2019 season Brian scored over 100 points in league play.
Fun Fact: Brian Keown is an award winning harmonica player.
Jason Face Siddell Players’ Award – Randy Helsman
Randy Helsman doesn’t say very much to the guys on the field but when he does speak it’s always to dispense sage wisdom. He is an extremely experienced player with a ton of high level 7s and 15s experience that is invaluable to his younger teammates. He is also an enthusiastic participant in a lot of our social activities, particularly our annual toys for tots Christmas party. Randy’s tackling form is excellent and he is a phenomenal lineout jumper. He is also decisive in attack which makes him a fun teammate to play alongside. His commitment to the Club as a whole through the years has been extraordinary and it is only fitting that he win the award named in honor of his dear friend.
Fun Fact: The Randy Sports Report is Facebook’s most trusted source of sports information.
7s Premier Player of the Year – Bruce Dolan
After dealing with injury for a few years Bruce Dolan roared back with a phenomenal Summer 7s season in 2019. There are those out there who believe that his performance at the Philadelphia 7s Eastern Open was the best day of 7s that he has ever played in his career. His defensive effort was excellent all day and he created numerous 80 (or more) meter tries singlehandedly. His performance was a huge factor in us being able to punch our ticket to Nationals early on and turn our focus to that tournament. At the National Tournament Bruce again was fantastic earning his way onto the Club Nationals Dream Team and establishing himself as one of the best 7s players in the country. If you watch the replay of our final try against the Park City Haggis you’ll see Bruce beat 4 defenders by himself to score the try and set up Danny for the match winning kick. He also scored a full field try against Life West. Both of those teams are fully stocked with USA Eagles and MLR players which shows that Bruce certainly has the talent to play at that level and although unrelated to our Club his performance for Philadelphia United against the Capital Selects also confirmed that fact.
Fun Fact: Bruce Dolan has a tattoo of Ben’s dog Vlad but we can’t tell you where…
7s U23 Player of the Year – PJ Maher
As one of the older and longest standing U23 players PJ Maher was expected to continue stepping up into his leadership role and help with the development of younger players. The St. Joe’s Prep and Villanova Rugby product did all of that and more as a skilled two way player that set the tone and showed his teammates what would be expected as they continue to grow and develop into Premier 7s players.
Fun Fact: PJ refers to himself as the Donte DiVincenzo of Skill Rugby
7s Breakout Player – Danny Giannascoli
Referring to Danny Giannascoli as Schuylkill’s breakout player or only as a 7s breakout player undersells the fact that’s he’s one of the biggest breakout players overall on the entire east coast from 2019. After helping lead Loyola to a 3rd place finish at the Collegiate Rugby Championship Danny started showing up for us and right away the guys knew that he was a special player. Alex Faison-Donahoe (himself an experienced MLR player) in particular was quick to point out that Danny had an incredible future ahead of him.
Danny ended up making the Dream Team at Club 7s alongside Bruce and the try that he scored against Kansas City was chosen as one of the top tries of the tournament. Additionally, his sideline conversion against the Haggis gave us the win. His performance helped him earn a spot on the Collegiate All American side at Rugbytown playing for Stephen Lewis. Shortly thereafter he made his debut for Atlantis and helped them win Barbados 7s for the first time. We’ve mentioned some of the other guys who played for Philly United and it should be noted that Danny earned Man of the Match honors against the Capital Selects thanks to his 17 point performance.
Danny ended up being drafted by the Utah Warriors of Major League Rugby and after a strong showing in the fall developmental season he was signed to the team full time as a professional rugby player.
Fun Fact: Danny has actually worn a wristwatch set to mountain time since he was 11 years old.
7s Coaches’ Award – Pat Boyle
Having Pat Boyle on the team is the equivalent of having an additional coach on the field. He helps the coaches organize the rosters, works on all of the logistics surrounding the entire program, and handles his business on the field. Once known as one of, if not the best, sweepers in the entire country Pat has had a tremendous career as a 7s player and remains willing to take on any opponent on offense or defense. His leadership and determination simply can not be overstated and his 12 appearances at 7s Nationals are a testimony to his dedication and competitive nature. Nobody does more to make the coaches jobs easier for them than Pat does.
Fun Fact: Pat was offered a bowling scholarship out of high school and is known to be an excellent paintball player.