Michigan hosts Wheeling Jesuit Saturday in both teams’ season opener. The contest pits two of the best fall-playing conferences against each other – the Big Ten and Rugby East – and interconference bragging rights are on the line. For Wheeling, a second-year varsity program, it’s the first as a DI-A team.
“This will be a big and important step for us, but one I think the guys are ready for,” said WJU Coach Eric Jerpe. “We’ve had a great pre-season. Michigan will be a good test for us to see where we stand as we enter league play in the Rugby East Conference.”
WJU is coming off a successful 10-4-1 inaugural season, fielding a team built largely of freshman. According to Jerpe, the Cards now return a talented sophomore class that is bigger and stronger, and have brought in a brace of talented freshman to challenge the returning starters.
Standouts returning for the Cardinals include Prop Forward Max Lum (Advance, N.C.) who will play a key role in anchoring the scrum against the larger, more physical D1-A teams. As a freshman, Lum trialed with the USA U-20 National Team (The Junior All-Americans), and is determined to compete for full All-American honors.
Sophomore Peter Malcom (Parkland, F.L.) returns for the Cards as an aggressive and talented member of the loose row. Malcom is a fearless tackler and ball poacher who is dangerous with ball in hand, and off the back of the scrum as well. A year older and wiser, Malcom will be a key member of the Cardinal attack.
Also back for the Cards is John Stapleton (Sydney, Australia) who returns to the team after missing the spring season. Stapleton is a quick and strong stepper with excellent acceleration and good ball skills. His highlights include scoring 11 tries in his debut for WJU at the 2012 Bowling Green 7s Tournament.
The Cardinal crop of freshman is not without its standouts. Working his way into a starting position is Joji Vakasisikakala (Bronx, N.Y.), a flyhalf with solid passing skills off his left and right hand, a vision for space, and a creative flair. Cardinal fans will look for Joji to be an exciting playmaker for years to come.
Michigan is also coming off a big year, as the Wolverines finished their inaugural season in the Big Ten, and DI-A, with a winning record.