It’s upstart vs. longtime power, varsity vs. club this weekend in the East Coast college league as AIC plays Middlebury.
Both teams started off well, winning their opening games, and already it’s time for a big test, to see which might have the inside track on the top spot.
AIC was a disappointing 3-4 in the East Coast a year ago. American International may be a longstanding college – it was founded in western Massachusetts in 1885 – its rugby history isn’t so long. The program has been varsity for just a short time, and it does take a few years to get to a varsity level.
“Josh Macy has done a terrific job with them,” enthused Middlebury Head Coach John Phillips, and certainly things are looking up for the team.
“This weekend felt good, to beat a team as good as Northeastern,” Macy said. “This was our first game out and I know the guys were itching to play. They did pretty well for a first game.”
AIC likes to play an open game, and has the athletes to do it, but, added Macy, there’s more to their approach now.
“We do like to play open, but we’ve got some strong forwards, as well,” he said. “I think the key thing is to develop complete rugby players who can handle any type of game. I think a game with big, physical players running in the interior channels can be exciting, and we have the players to do that, too.”
Leading the charge in the forwards is an imposing and improving back row of New York U19 product Michael Martinez at flanker, Corey Momsen at lock and No. 8, and Gavan D’Amore-Morrison, who scored one of AIC’s tries last weekend. Demarie Davis and Deshae Edwards also scored, while flyhalf Tyler Nawrocki, a product of the McClatchy HS team in Sacramento, opened his account with 19 points from a try, four conversions, and two penalties.
They will need all that goalkicking accuracy and front-line power against Middlebury. Despite losing some excellent seniors, Middlebury is still a strong team and carries with it the tradition of being regular DII national title contenders.
DIAA is a little different, but the men from the mountains of Vermont expect to contend.
“I think we had a good start,” said Phillips. “What was crucial I think was how the players responded when things didn’t go our way.”
Tighthead prop Cole Baker went down in the first two minutes, and that hurt Middlebury’s scrum, and also the lineout, where Baker is the regular thrower.
Yet somehow the Panthers didn’t curl up and hide, and in fact scored four nice tries in beating UMass 28-12 (UMass scored one try at the death).
“We’ve lost some key players and we still don’t know exactly what we have,” said Phillips, who was quite happy to pump up AIC as he was being circumspect about his own team. “But what we do have is a bunch of guys who really want to work hard. That’s a big part of the battle.”
So is winning the tough games. AIC travels to Middlebury on Saturday.
Also on the slate in the East Coast is Northeast against UMass, and Boston College at UConn.
BC was supposed to play Albany last week, but the game was postponed due to it being Yom Kippur and many Jewish players were not available. Connecticut had a bye, and thus this will be the opening weekend for both teams.
Albany finally gets a league run-on in a week, at UMass.