News and Announcements
Skill Rugby started the summer 7s season on a strong note by winning Lehigh Valley 7s over the weekend. Additionally, the team welcomed back Premier side players Ben Janssen, Bruce Dolan, and Matt Henderson from injury. After the tournament the coaching staff was excited about all of the young talent on the team and mentioned several players in particular.
The biggest impact on the day came from Danny Giannascoli who recently graduated from Loyola and made his first appearance in a Schuylkill River uniform. Dan had at least 8 combined tries and assists throughout the day playing for our top side and his most important try was a 50 meter break in the second half of the championship match which gave us the lead for good. According to the coaches “all week in practice the coaching staff could see Dan’s athletic abilities that were showcased on Saturday, but most impressive was Dan’s ability to keep his composure and excel in the most pressure filled moments of the tournament. Dan has a bright summer ahead of him here.”
Also joining us from Loyola is Jack Ramizes who made his Skill Rugby debut with the U23 side and instantly showed his ability to stretch the field with at least 4 tries on the day. None were more impressive than a 60 plus meter sprint down the sidelines that left Coach Mastromatto, a former speedster himself, more than just a little impressed. Coach Stro later said “that run looked effortless, I asked Jack on the sidelines if he even hit top speed on that run because he looked like he was in light stride while pulling away from defenders that initially had good angles. Honestly though, I was more impressed by his ability to tackle. Most speed guys shy away from contact but he stood out in the middle of our defensive alignment with countless solo tackles.”
Another U23 player who caught the Coaching Staff’s eye was Xavier Steward. X bring serious speed to the edge of our U23 side and scored three quick tries before shutting it down for the day. X is arguable the most fashionable player on the team and on the field he has the unique ability to score from anywhere. Coach Mastromatto says “X is a guy to me that has a lot of upside potential on the wind. You could see the progression from last year early on in the day with breakaway tries. He has a lot of raw ability that will continue to develop. Once he has all of the aspects of his game molded together he will be a serious problem for opposing teams.”
Justin Lopez, fresh off of an appearance for the Dominican Republic National Team was a clear standout early on with his physicality both offensively and defensively. His day was cut short but not before putting up 3 work horse style tries. Justin is no rookie to big 7s tournaments and that experience was well showcased on Saturday. The coaches said “Justin definitely caught our eye early on in the U23 games with his defense. There was one series we watched him control the tackle, poach the ball, stay on his feet and shake off two defenders for a try – that’s rare ability. He’s somebody we know we’ll see do big things all summer here.”
Coach Mastromatto also mentioned three guys from Kutztown; Mike Hubble, Keyon McCloud-Holman, and Anthony Donatelli who had some highlights on the day including a try from Keyon in the corner where he ran over the sweeper. Anthony from Delaware made a strong debut with 2 tries for the U23 Academy and was joined by Delaware teammate Jenko who had an encouraging start and lastly Temple’s Adam Shapiro looked really good at sweeper and Brendan Stein from Holy Family showed a lot of growth throughout the day and looks poised to continue developing into a good player.
The next tournament is Saturday June 15 at North Penn.
In what has become an annual tradition Schuylkill River had another big weekend at the Collegiate Rugby Championship (https://www.usasevenscrc.com) in Chester PA last weekend. Philadelphia rugby’s flagship 7s team had 14 active players compete in the collegiate event in addition to our U19 side’s participation in the high school rugby championship.
In the NSCRO Division Loyola took third place in the country in large part thanks to Danny Gianascoli and Jack Ramirez and the Freedom Cup featured Drexel with 2017 All-American Kyle Kent and Louis Baeza. What makes these two teams notable is the fact that Gianascoli will now be joining his brother Matt as a member of Skill Rugby while Kent’s brother Karl joined the family by playing for our U19 side.
Additional Freedom Cup participants included Villanova with PJ Maher, West Chester with Mike Salloum and Rowan with Armani Mendez. All three of these guys are talented young rugby players and it’s great to have an event like this in our background to enable them to continue developing their skills.
In the Champions Division Kutztown enjoyed a top 4 finish with Sam Devine and Daquan Perry on the roster, St. Joe’s featured a trio of Skill Rugby players with Mikey Hoffman, Nick Ballas, and Finn Tuite, Temple had Adam Shapiro on their team, and Boston College featured Riley Curtin.
We look forward to developing even more talent in the summer of 2019 and continuing to work on our grass roots Philadelphia rugby initiatives to keep providing opportunities for local talent to shine in this event.
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.
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.
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.