News and Announcements

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Over the weekend of May 31 – June 2 Schuylkill River’s U-19 program participated in the High School Rugby Championship, part of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship in Chester, PA. A huge thank you goes out to Coaches Greg Mininger and Ryan McHugh who have once again donated their time to support this initiative and provide the players with an awesome weekend!

The team was made up of players from Roman Catholic High School, the North Philadelphia Nomads, the Narberth Otters, and the Maryland Stingers. Due weather related scheduling issues the players came into the event with very little 7s experience and struggled in the early going but continued to improve throughout the weekend culminating in a 27-5 victory in the final match of the weekend.

A highlight of the weekend for many of the players was having the opportunity to watch high level collegiate 7s in person for the first time. As a result of attending this event many of them have been motivated to continue their playing careers beyond high school and we look forward to having an opportunity to help them keep developing as members of our U23 program for years to come.

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For the second season in a row Ben Janssen has been named Captain of Schuylkill River’s 7s program. To get to know more about Ben’s background and what he brings to the table check out the interview he recently did for us.

1. What is your rugby background?
I first played in high school with Coatesville Rugby Club, a club that unfortunately received no support from the school and has since disbanded, during that time I also played with Brandywine Men’s Club and eventually found my way to Penn State Men’s Rugby Club. Penn State opened the door to the select sides of Atlantis and representing Philadelphia in the Select Cities tournament in Houston where I met Pudge (Chris Ryan). After the Select Cities tournament, I knew I wanted to play on whatever team he was coaching and that brought me to Schuylkill River.

2. What notable accomplishments do you have in 7s and what sort of select side representation have you been involved in?
As mentioned above I played with Atlantis and Philadelphia Selects but I was also back-to-back first team Big Ten and had the privileged of competing in the first 5 CRCs.

3. What are you going to bring to the table as the Captain of Schuylkill’s 7s program and how would you describe your leadership style?
Well first and foremost I think everyone on the team, the rugby community, possibly the planet knows how much I hate losing so I think that will drive performance but I also bring a solid range of knowledge and a never say die work ethic to the team. When I’m on the field I’m running as hard and as fast as I can till the game ends or you pull me from the field. In the really gritty minutes of sevens I think guys respect a person who lays it on the line for the team.

4. Schuylkill’s 7s program is much more than just the Premier side. How do you intend to help develop the players on the U-23 side and help the less experienced players learn the game?
Aside from recently taking up coaching our U19 program, I start with recruiting. It’s really sad to me that there are not more Penn State Men’s club Alumni in the Philly area willing to play high level rugby so I go after players from my alma mater first. From PSU I move onto the connections I have made throughout my rugby career to pull in as many players as possible. Then comes development, I believe one of the greatest ways elevate your play is to play against higher competition. Collegiate athletes, recent graduates and less experienced players can come to Schuylkill knowing they will get better because they will be competing against a nationally competitive side every practice. Our coaching staff and senior players are exceptional at explaining our style of play and will field any question a younger or less experienced player may have. Schuylkill also has the advantage of entering multiple teams into tournaments and frequently get to watch one another play. This gives the more experienced players an opportunity to watch the U23 side play and critique their individual and team play, conversely the U23 and open sides get to watch the premier at a high level and learn from our mistakes and what we do well.

5. Speaking of helping less experienced players learn the game, you previously helped coach Schuylkill’s first ever U-19 team at the High School Rugby Championship as part of the Collegiate Rugby Championship that takes place in Chester every year. How would you describe that experience and what have you learned from it?
Being a first time coach was incredible. Teaching our U19 players the game I love and seeing their ability to learn and fall in love with it was an experience I will never forget and hope to continue to do. I learned areas where I need to improve as a player and a teacher and learned somehow I am more psychotic on the sidelines as a coach than on the field as a player…… definitely an area for improvement.

6. What do you most look forward to as a member of Schuylkill’s 7s program?
I love everything about sevens; the fitness, the training, all day tournaments, the brotherhood you form with your teammates, and especially winning. My wife has six national championships (four 15s and two 7s) and I have 0, SRE 7s puts me I a solid position to attempt to narrow that gap as we’re nationally completive every year.

7. If someone was on the fence about coming to play 7s for Schuylkill River what would you want them to know?
If you want to become a better rugby player, come play with us. Even if you do not have the premier side time commitment we can accommodate whatever level of 7s you are looking to play but I can guarantee you will get significantly better throughout the summer. No other program in the area will develop your game like Schuylkill.

Bonus Question: You scored a match winning try for Penn State at the Collegiate Rugby Championship against Ohio State and Nate Ebner who currently plays for the New England Patriots. Is it true that the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Superbowl 52 with a backup quarterback and are currently the defending Superbowl champs?
It is in fact true, I like to believe the seeds of the patriots defeat were created that day in 2011. I’m sure the tale of a PA team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat of a “better” team spread far and wide and shook the patriots team to the core.

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We’ve got a special interview this week as 7s season kicks off and we chat with Director of Rugby Pat Boyle.

1) What is your background in 7s and what have you accomplished in your career so far? For anyone who has walked around with you at 7s event, its seem like you know everyone.
Well, it probably just mean’s I’m old. Serious now, I am actually lucky, as I always say I was brought up in 7s. Long before 7s was played in college, the only 7s was with men’s teams. When I was 20, I found Lehigh Valley Rugby Club who were very serious about 7s and coached by Joe Morrison, and the Emperor, Emil Signes. Those 2 coaches really showed me the competitive side of rugby. In those first couple years, I went to Nationals twice with LVRC, played for Atlantis, attended All-American camp, and did a bunch of select side stuff. After that, all I wanted to do was play at the highest level I could. In 2008, most of us from LV had moved away from the area, and that’s when Will Knipscher and I started the 7s program at Schuylkill River. We are now over a decade in and SR has made it to Nationals 8 times. I really don’t take enough time to stop and really appreciate it, but the consistency we have had is remarkable. A lot of that credit goes to Mike Burch and Chris Ryan as well who have been a rock for our program as coaches for many years.

2) Piggybacking off of that, at 34, you are young to be a Director of Rugby of a Nationally recognized 7s program.
Yes, certainly, that is true, but I never really thought of it like that. I started the 7’s program here when I was 23. So age aside, I have over 10 years’ experience. We started this thing from the ground up, so there isn’t a detail I don’t know about, and I think that really helps. Certainly, made some missteps through the years, but we are stronger for it.

3)A lot of talented players have obviously chosen to play 7s for Schuylkill but what do you do to develop talent internally and help all players reach their peak?
Honestly, this is what separates our program I believe from everyone else. We are a true club model. We have never turned away a player no matter their skill level or athletic ability. We have done all of that while still playing 7s at the highest level. From our earliest beginnings, we always had 2 sides, and now we consistently put out 3 to 4 sides every weekend which is unheard of most places in the country. We know we can’t compete with a model other teams have of importing talent. We must build from within, and everyone in the program knows it, its ingrained in our culture, and it’s who we are. 10 years ago, we weren’t alone in this, but over the past couple years, the rise of the all-star 7s sides have really come to dominate the scene. I fully support that and think it’s great for the game, but that’s not who we are. Certainly, our top guys have different goals and focus on that at training, but if you come to Schuylkill, player 1 through 100 is getting coached and developing. I can guarantee that.

4)What can you tell us about the coaching staff that Schuylkill has put together this year?
Our coaching staff is really second to none, and I say that with the utmost confidence. Mike “Beaver” Burch will be Head Coach again this year and we are really excited about his progression. Further, Chris Ryan is stepping back into an Associate Head Coach role. Beaver has been with our program from day one, first as a player, then as Chris’ assistant coach. Beaver is an embodiment of everything this program stands for. I think Coach Ryan’s motivation to come back is the greatest complement for me as Director. He really struggled being away from the boys, the camaraderie, and just everything we built here. It’s a program people want to be a part of and Chris has been involved at the highest level, so it says a lot.

Biddy Boyle is the head man of the U23 Academy. I could go on about Biddy’s credentials, but the fact that this man leads our U23 team, just speaks to the strength of our coaching staff. Biddy is really the perfect for U23 because he’s worked so much with men’s sides, but now does a ton of work with Atlantis U19 program. There isn’t a better man to bridge the gap in a player’s development from High School/College to Men’s.

Josh Mastromatto is such an exciting up and coming coach. Aside from his rugby knowledge his work with agility, and fitness, is just so influential to the program. Josh is such an accomplished athlete, and came to rugby late, so he has a unique perspective on things that’s so pivotal in players development

Ryan McHugh is also back to coach this year. Ryan is a stalwart for us in 15s and this last year has coached with Chris Ryan at Princeton, so really excited to see his development in year 2 as a coach here.

Lastly, Jaime-Pierce Williams is joining the staff this year, and we couldn’t be more excited. Jamie was a SR stalwart in the early years of the program and helped build what it is today on the pitch. He has been to the top of the mountain, and knows what it takes, and most importantly that fire still burns which he imparts in his players.

Top to bottom, you would be hard pressed to find a staff so accomplished in the country with the depth of talented coaches that we have put together which will allow for players to improve within every tier within our program.

5) With all of the other options for 7s, why should someone come and play for Schuylkill River?
One word, consistency. The game of 7s is all about how consistent you can play for 14 minutes. Running a 7s program is the same way. You come to Schuylkill River you know exactly what you are going to get: challenged every day, great coaching, great mentors for young players, play at the highest level.
In the end, we know exactly who we are and how to make players, and teams better. For 10 years, there has been one constant in the Mid-Atlantic and Philadelphia for 7s, and that is River, that doesn’t just happen by coincidence. We have seen clubs come and go and I don’t think they realize how hard it is to play that level, and maintain it. Lastly, It is not easy to play for us, you have to want to the best which has nothing to do with ability. If you really want to be the best player you can be, there isn’t a question where I think guys should play.

6) Tell us about the development and success of Schuylkill’s U23 academy and about some players who have played for the academy but also earned a trip to nationals with the premier side?
The academy side is great and every year we have had multiple players never even play for our top side (or very little) and make the Premier Side which went to nationals. Again, all of that is possible because our U23 side is playing in the exact same environment, and getting great coaching, so for us it’s not you didn’t make the top side this weekend, you are forgotten. Its more, how do I get you there. I always remember, our first year of U23, Biddy Boyle told Brian Keown he would make the top side by the end of the summer. No one knew Biddy told him this, but by the last tournament before Nationals, Brian made the top side and went to Nationals. Now a couple years later, Keown is arguably the best player in the entire club. That’s the beauty of the club, first, we have an environment where that growth could take place, but second, we have a culture where Keown didn’t complain, he simply worked harder. I would tell every college player, give us a summer, I guarantee you come back to school that much better.

7)Going with that, why have so many high level players (All-Americans, MLR, etc.) come to SR to play?
Pretty much everything I said before, but I think the biggest thing is they know it won’t be easy, but the reward is so much sweeter. Nationally, we know we are never going to be favorites yet year in and year out we play and succeed at that level. The reason is simple, grinding for everything both physically and intellectually. We will not succeed unless everyone is a step above our competition in understanding the game, and then also in top condition physically. Even then, it sometimes isn’t enough. At the end of that process though, you are such a better player and guys who have that desire, seek that out here. Again, it isn’t easy to play here, but if you want to get better it will happen. Obviously, if making all-American you have probably have that desire, so the attraction is there.

8) Lastly, tell us the best part about being a member of Schuylkill River 7s.
Cliché, but it’s the brotherhood. 7s is grueling. For 6 or 7 weeks when everyone else is at the beach, you get up at 5/6am and travel to go play rugby for 8 hours in the heat. Trust me, if you don’t have a brotherhood with those conditions, your program is sinking quick. Its why 7s guys get so close I think because just the amount of time you spend together is huge. On top of that, we have 3 or 4 for sides, so the mix of people is crazy, and amazingly entertaining. It’s a family honestly, you have your super talented cousin who is pushing for the Eagles, and then your crazy cousin who is primarily there simply to cheer for said talented cousin and maybe play some rugby. In all of that, it forms a family, and more than anything, probably why we have been successful.

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The second annual HazBowl Old Boys Match took place over the weekend bringing together past generations of Troop and Schuylkill River Rugby players as well as representatives of numerous Clubs within the Philadelphia community including significant contingents from Temple University and Blackthorn. A big thanks as always goes out to everyone who helped spread the word so that we could get a good turnout and for helping to run the grill. Overall we had approximately 40 players participate in the match with many more watching from the sidelines.

Following the HazBowl the Exiles took on a tough Norfolk Blues side and ended up with a 29-29 draw. Coach Burch stated that it was a “good start with the wind at our backs but we took our foot off the gas and didn’t press the advantage enough. We took a 14-12 lead into halftime but we knew that Norfolk would come out flying in the second half. Too many forced passes and handling errors allowed the Blues opportunities to make plays in transition and with 15 minutes left in the match we were staring down a 29-19 deficit. The boys buckled down for two late tries to salvage a bonus point draw.”

Try scorers for the match included Randy Helsman, Lucas Brickley, Matt Stringer, and Matt Henderson who scored twice. Brian Keown hit 2 conversion kicks on an extremely windy day. For his efforts on the wing Matt Henderson was awarded man of the match honors and other strong performers included Randy Helsman, Jimmy Wolfer, Lucas Brickley and Matt Hughes.

We are happy to report that at the conclusion of the match we found out that Troop, our D3 side, qualified for the EPRU playoffs. On Saturday March 30 the Exiles travel to Baltimore for the final match of their regular season while Troop travels to Jersey Shore for a friendly as they prepare for the playoffs set to begin on April 6.

This week’s U-19 Match saw the combined North Philly Nomads and Narberth Otters side take on Simon Gratz. Unfortunately, the weather in the week leading up to the match prevented the Nomads and Otters from having a combined training session so it was difficult for the boys to remain cohesive when many of them are still so new to the game of rugby. Gratz jumped out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to some turnovers but the Nomads struck back thanks to some quick thinking about Captain Nas Epps who scored off of a quick tap. The teams traded tries from there with Gratz scoring followed by Ifeyan Gavin scoring off of a penalty play to make it 21-12 following a conversion from Phil Gatti. Gratz controlled things for early portion of the second half and scored two more tries before Christian Diaz was able to steal a lineout which led to a try for Antonio Tilley off of a nice decisive pass from scrum half Cameron.

The final score was 33-19 in favor of Gratz but the boys fought hard until the end. The Nomad of the Match was inside centrer Antonio Tilley. In addition to scoring his first try of the season, Antonio was instrumental in keeping the Team engaged positively during the course of the game. Congratulations Antonio on your exemplary effort Sunday! Christian Diaz also impressed the coaching staff with his play throughout the match.
The Nomads travel to Father Judge on Sunday.

Season Scoring Totals:
Troop:
Tries: Jabari Johnson (4), John Hines Jr. (2), Dave Hilley (2), Matt Hughes (2), Michael Bacon (1), Justin Brown (1), James Brunson (1) Cody Bukowski (1), Ed Carter (1), Rich Casey (1), Jeff Hall (1) Dave Hockenberry (1), Ross McMonigle (1), Lake Paul (1), Tom Stenberg (1)
Cons: Ryan Tower (10)
Pens: Ryan Tower (6)

Exiles:
Tries: Sean Barnes (5), Randy Helsman (5), Matt Henderson (5), Brian Keown (4), Dan Deal (3), Lucas Brickley (2), Joe Midwig (2), Jimmy Wolfer (2), Pat Boyle (1), Matt Chiaramonte (1), Jeff Hall (1), Dante Jacquet (1) Jabari Johnson (1), Austin Lucas (1), Ricky Schneider (1), Matt Stringer (1), Brad Volm (1)
Cons: Keown (20)
Pens: Keown (8)

Nomads/Otters
Tries: Nas Epps (2), Ifeyan Gavin (2), Antonio Tilley (1)
Cons: Phil Gatti (3),
Pens:

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The weekend of March 16 and 17 was the first weekend of league play for our Troop (D3) and Exile (D1) sides as well as the start of Rugby PA’s spring 15s season. Troop took on Brandywine, the Exiles played Rocky Gorge, and the combined Narberth Otters/North Philly Nomads side went up against Roman Catholic in a match pitting many of our U-19 7s players against each other.

In a crucial match for Troop to keep their playoff hopes alive the guys came out a bit sluggish in the first half and faced a 10-3 halftime deficit against a talented Brandywine side before turning in a solid performance in the second half to escape with a 23-22 victory. Tries were scored by Jabari Johnson, Matt Hughes, and Jeff Hall with Ryan Tower adding 8 points with the boot.

After the match Coach Pearce-Williams awarded Man of the Match honors to Matt Hughes who was also voted man of the match by his teammates separately. Hughes earned multiple penalties poaching the ball in the first half and the match turned in our favor on a sequence in the second half where scrum half Ryan Tower made the gutsy, but ultimately correct, decision to quick tap from well inside our half and swing the ball to Hughes who put us on the front foot and eventually scored a try off of a quick tape of his own. Other strong performers included Matt Stringer who directed us from the backline, Jabari Johnson whose speed and physicality was difficult to match all over the field, Jeff Hall who was a stalwart on defense and in the set piece, and Aaron Jolcover whose toughness proved crucial for us throughout the day as he regularly took on Brandywine’s toughest player on both offense and defense.

After the match Coach Pearce-Williams stated that we “started slow, but committed to winning the contact situations in the second half. Playing our system properly and with discipline allowed us to get points on the board and it was enough to earn a victory thanks to a lucky break at the end.”

Scorers:
Tries: Jeff Hall (1), Matt Hughes (1), Jabari Johnson (1)
Cons: Tower (1)
Pens: Tower (2)

The Exiles looked to keep the momentum going in the second match of the day by racing out to a 19-3 lead against Rocky Gorge and holding a 19-17 lead at halftime thanks to tries from Jimmy Wolfer, Brian Keown, and Sean Barnes. Unfortunately a few of the Exiles’ starters had to be removed from the match due to injury and Rocky Gorge’s depth was the difference as Gorge scored the final 35 points of the match to earn a 38-19 victory.

Sean Barnes earned man of the match honors from Coach Burch, as well as his teammates, for his blend of speed and physicality in the backline and Coach Burch was also impressed with the performances we got from the elusive Graham Johnston, the physical Tyler Kelley and the ageless Randy Helsman. The Exiles won’t be dwelling on the loss for long since an extremely talented Norfolk Blues side is travelling to play us this weekend and we’ll need to be solely focused on the next match.

Following this match Coach Burch told me that "we had a strong start working our system and controlling field position but the depth of our squad was tested in the second half due to some injuries and the strength of Gorge’s team from top to bottom was too much to overcome. We need to maintain a ‘next man up’ mentality and stay focused in our system for 80 minutes.

Scorers:
Tries: Sean Barnes (1), Brian Keown (1), Jimmy Wolfer (1)
Cons: Keown (2)

In Sunday’s high school match the Narberth Otters and North Philly Nomads came together for the first time as a combined side and took on a talented Roman Catholic team. It was a great opportunity for many brand new players to try out the sport of rugby and Roman Catholic ended up winning the match 27-12 in large part due to their experience playing together and by limiting their mistakes.

For the Nomads 8Man Ifeyan Gavin was named Nomad of the match and he did a great job running the ball with power and speed, as well as coming up strong and finishing his tackles. Tries for the Nomads were scored by Gavin, and team captain Nas Epps who played a solid match from the flanker position and showed strong leadership qualities throughout the day. Fly half Phil Gatti added a conversion kick.

Following the match Coach Brunson called it a “tough loss to a great group of young men that play for Roman. We’ve gotten to know them on a personal level over the past few weeks and it was nice to see them progress as a team. I’m proud of the effort our Nomads gave on the field this afternoon. We had 9 young men play their first rugby game today. As we gain experience as teammates and rugby players, the final results will start to be in our favor.”

On the Roman side the Dalessandro’s Steaks Forward of the Match was Davonne Hudson, the Chubby’s Steaks Back of the Match was James Kuneck, the Septa Hit of the Match went to Colin Meissler and the Henry James Man of the Match was Claudio Hassan. Coach Koniecki informed us that he was “very proud of the boys for fighting hard and playing composed. We are looking forward to a strong week of practice as we get ready to travel to Elizabethtown.”

Season Scoring Totals:
Troop:
Tries: Jabari Johnson (4), John Hines Jr. (2), Dave Hilley (2), Matt Hughes (2), Michael Bacon (1), Justin Brown (1), James Brunson (1) Cody Bukowski (1), Ed Carter (1), Rich Casey (1), Jeff Hall (1) Dave Hockenberry (1), Ross McMonigle (1), Lake Paul (1), Tom Stenberg (1)
Cons: Ryan Tower (10)
Pens: Ryan Tower (6)

Exiles:
Tries: Sean Barnes (5), Randy Helsman (4), Brian Keown (4), Dan Deal (3), Matt Henderson (3), Joe Midwig (2), Pat Boyle (1), Lucas Brickley (1), Matt Chiaramonte (1), Jeff Hall (1), Dante Jacquet (1) Jabari Johnson (1), Austin Lucas (1), Ricky Schneider (1), Brad Volm (1) Jimmy Wolfer (2)
Cons: Keown (18)
Pens: Keown (8)

Nomads/Otters
Tries: Nas Epps (1), Ifeyan Gavin (1)
Cons: Phil Gatti (1),
Pens:

Roman Catholic:
Tries: Davonne Hudson (2), Claudio Hassan (1), James Kuneck (1), John Stermel (1),
Cons: Stermel (1),
Pens: