American International College (AIC) makes its East Coast Rugby Conference debut Friday night against Albany in Springfield, Mass.
AIC’s season ended last year with some controversy as the Yellow Jackets were voted out of their league, Rugby Northeast, after forfeiting games for playing ineligible players and other disciplinary issues. They’re playing in the East Coast this season under the condition that they cannot qualify for the conference’s automatic bid to the Sweet 16, but they’re hoping they’ll garner an at-large bid from USA Rugby’s Competitions Committee.
Coach Josh Macy says having to impress the Competitions Committee won’t change the way AIC looks at its season.
“We have our same goals that we always have,“ he said. “Whether we’re going to get an AQ or not, we still want to play a certain way, we still want to carry ourselves a certain way, and really if we do the things we needed to do to win an automatic qualifier, those are the things we need to do to win an at-large bid.”
The ruling knocking AIC from DII playoff contention came last November, so the Yellow Jackets haven’t played a meaningful game in some time. Macy says he’s looking forward to putting the drama behind the program and getting back to playing meaningful rugby.
“There’s been so much extra stuff put on these guys, and when it comes down to it, as an institution, we just want these guys playing rugby and representing their school and getting to play for something,” he said. “To let these guys move on and make them rugby players again and to not have them be an issue anymore, rather than just a group of guys wanting to play rugby a certain way, I think will be a big relief.”
AIC has lost some talent from last year, chiefly South African flyhalf Duke Nakina. But filling in at No. 10 is a quality freshman from Northern California in Tyler Nawrocki. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by two other freshmen, No. 8 Marshall Godfrey (also from Northern California) and Corey Momsen of Wisconsin. All three started in AIC’s preseason defeat of Yale, 44-0.
“They’re good guys. They’re bright players, but there’s still a bit of a learning curve. We’ve had to tailor our attacking structure to their skills a little bit more,” said Macy of his freshmen starters.
“But I definitely believe in the guys and I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond to just being in there right away. Against Yale, I couldn’t tell they were freshmen. They knew their assignments, they played well within our attacking structure.”
One of the biggest play makers returning for AIC is Sam Seumaala, a flanker and center. He is a hard runner and a tough tackler. Same could be said for prop Jamal Hadley. Also returning is a pair of senior scrumhalves -- Johnni Dideriksen and Cory Newton. Both were walk-ons when the program started.
“They’re just playing with a ton of confidence,” said Macy, “and they’re making plays all over.”
Other ECRC week one action includes Uconn traveling to Boston College, Middlebury playing at Umass and Southern Connecticut hosting Northeastern.