By Zach Bonner, Asst. News Editor
Susquehanna men’s rugby has exhibited a flawless performance this fall in the National Small College Rugby Organization’s Gold Men’s 15’s, clinching their division title with a 7-0 record.
They took down every other member of their division and have clinched a play- in spot in the NSCRO Gold Championship by finishing on top of the Mid-Atlantic Region.
“Without revealing too much about the secret to our success, I can say that we have a very versatile lineup,” said senior Cooper O’Connell, “A key goal within our team is to feel comfortable with everyone carrying the ball and fulfilling their responsibilities.”
Four team members top the charts for their division in tries and points scored. Matt Kaltenbach, Ryheem Powell, Isayah Young-Burke, and Cooper O’Connell sit atop the leaderboard for this fall season. It is evident that team cohesiveness and a culture of comraderie feeds their success.
“We don’t have a specific mantra,” said Dr. Jonathan Niles, the head coach of the team, “But it is understood that every individual must do their job.”
It is key to note that the B-side team is also undefeated in their division, with an 8-0 record.
“I think one of the keys to our success is that conditioning with and practicing against our B-side has been more challenging than some matches, in a sense,” explained junior outside center, Isayah Young- Burke, “A lot of teams we faced didn’t hold up to our standards conditioning wise, and that showed in the amount of points we scored in the 50th and 60th minutes of our matches.”
The River Hawks eclipsed every team they played this season by at least 30 points, even passing Neumann by 68 points with a final score of 82 to 14. They scored 48 of those 82 points
in the second half of the match. “Last year we had a lot of talent, but this year the team’s rugby IQ allowed it all to come together,” said O’Connell, “We rallied together as a team and made a lot of strong comebacks.” Team members have come to a concensus that a contributing factor to their success is the close involvement of the coaching staff with the players.
“[Our coaches] find the little things in our game to fix, and that helps us improve,” said junior prop Ryheem Powell, “They also reach out to other programs to see what they have to say about how we play in order to take our team to the next level.”
A pivotal point in the season came with the River Hawks’ 53-5 win over Bucknell, which cemented their position as first in the division.
“Last year, we lost to Bucknell twice,” said Young-Burke, “Going into this season, we knew that we couldn’t do that again.” Young-Burke scored ten points in the match with two tries. He was supported by
Powell, Kaltenback, and O’Connell, who collectively ran in five of the remaining seven tries in the match.
The score at the end of the first half was 17-5. The River Hawks went on a 36-0 run throughout the second half to solidify their sumpremacy over the Bison.
“I came into this sport as a very new player, a former football athlete,” recounted Young-Burke, “It really helped that my teammates and I truly held each other accountable to become better with each match.”
The team is currently ranked in the top 20 in the nation with their position in the upcoming NSCRO 2017- 18 Men’s Championship Cup.
According to Susquehanna Men’s Rugby’s biography on the Marc Rugby Conference website, the team has extensive national tournament experience. The River Hawks have appeared in the NSCRO 15’s Championship Cup every year since 2012. Over the past five years, the team has been ranked in the top 20 nationally, and has risen to a ranking as high as ninth in the country.
“The core of the team has three years of experience playing together,” Niles explained, “We have stressed consistency and responsibility within the team to get the job done. We have also place a strong emphasis on fitness.”
The River Hawks are facing off against the Loyola University Wolves for the Mid-Atlantic North Qualifier. The Wolves are the Potomac region champions.
“If we defeat Loyola, we will move on to play Christendom College, a varsity program from Virginia,” said Niles.
The Mid-Atlantic North Qualifier will be played at Susquehanna on Saturday, November 18 at 1 p.m.