BOULDER, Colo. – After a quick glance of the teams that make up the Rugby East Conference, it’s no surprise that there is a plethora of talent around the league. Army, Penn State and Conference Champion Kutztown continue to be the elite teams of the conference, but as Wheeling Jesuit has done the past two seasons, Iona has inched closer to the top of the East rung.
Other teams in Rugby East have struggled to earn victories, but they still had terrific team moments, and individuals more than worthy of making D1A Rugby’s list of All-Rugby East performers.
All-Rugby East 1st Team Forwards:
Brian McKellar, prop, Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ loose head is part of a two-headed scrummaging monster along with fellow prop Zach Barnes. While Barnes might be slightly better in the scrum, McKellar is a great help in the lineouts and seems to stick his nose in nearly every ruck.
Cecil Rich, prop, Wheeling Jesuit: Standing 6-foot-2, weighing 255 pounds, and with athleticism to burn, Rich would make for a valuable unit in the second or third row, but coach Tal Bayer utilizes his prized sophomore in the front row. Rich’s eye-popping frame and skill has grabbed not only the attention of Rugby East, but the Men’s National Team, as well.
Kyle Ciquera, hooker, St. Bonaventure: Wins were scarce for the Bonnies this season, but the team showed some real toughness in its loss to Kutztown. Holding the Golden Bears scoreless for an entire half, which St. Bonaventure accomplished, shows real grit and determination. Ciquera epitomizes the Bonnies’ toughness.
Nick Hohlt, lock, Kutztown: Hohlt is possibly the best lock Doc Jones has coached during his long and successful tenure with Kutztown. He’s a prototypical second-rower who does more than dominate set pieces. Only a sophomore, Hohlt will be putting his stamp on Rugby East matches for two more years.
Zach Reichenbach, lock, Wheeling Jesuit: The Cardinals’ captain moved between lock and flanker, and was equally effective at each position. Reichenbach led by example all season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better player at the point of contact.
Jordan Ghyzel, flanker, Kutztown:October’s Rugby East Player of the Month, Ghyzel has done what he’s been doing his entire career at Kutztown – be a very productive rugby player. The senior eats up a lot of tackles, but he also leads the Golden Bears in tries this fall with 10.
Jon Petteruti, flanker, Iona: Not only the Gaels’ best defender, Head Coach Bruce McLane graded Petteruti as the team’s best overall player this fall. Pairing with eight man Mike Marino, Iona’s back row made things difficult for the rest of the conference.
Peter Malcolm, No. 8, Wheeling Jesuit: A 1st Team performer last season, Malcolm turned in another terrific season during his senior year. He plays with a controlled aggression that makes him difficult to bring down when he has ball in hand, and terrifying to run at when he’s on defense. Most recently, Malcolm excelled at the Halloween Rugby 7s tournament for the USA Falcons.
All-Rugby East 1st Team Backs:
Jimmy Ronan, scrum half, Penn State: Predicted by D1A Rugby to “become a more familiar name to college rugby fans by season’s end,“ Ronan’s stellar season has done just that. Only a sophomore, Ronan directs his teammates on both offense and defense like a senior. Possessing a strong and accurate pass from the base of the ruck, Ronan was also near perfect kicking for goal this season.
Thomas Del Pino, fly half, Army: Del Pino backed up his All-Rugby East 1st Team season in 2014 with another quality year that lands him on the same list in 2015. After graduating placekicker and full back Logan Pearce, Del Pino took over West Point’s kicking duties with flying colors, totaling 62 points from his boot this fall.
Andrew Fargo, center, Army: A junior from California, Fargo began the season with a Player of the Week performance against Buffalo, and continued to play at a high level throughout the season. When the dust settled in the East, Fargo was one of three Black Knights with a team-high five tries.
Mike Scarcella, center, Iona: After being thrust into the Gaels’ starting lineup last season as a freshman, Scarcella was ready for a breakout season this year. While his head coach is quick to point out his defensive prowess, Scarcella’s performance in attack against Kutztown drew rave reviews from the Golden Bears’ Doc Jones: “He’s a very hard runner and has a high rugby IQ. He is a constant threat with the ball in hand.”
Mike Eife, wing, Penn State: Eife’s head coach, Blake Burdette, said it best when describing his junior danger-man: “He knows one pace, and that’s fast.” Eife plays with the explosion you like to see from an edge player, but was also a tremendous leader as the Nittany Lions’ captain.
Vetekina Malafu, wing, Kutztown: Often overshadowed by Kutztown’s All-American back line players, Malafu captivated the attention of nearly every team this fall. His attention-grabbing play could have something to do with his sturdy frame, but it probably has more to do with his nine tries.
Allan Hanson, full back, Wheeling Jesuit: A student of the game, Hanson not only used his great field vision to burst through gaps in attack, but also direct teammates while on defense. The senior has also proven to be a real threat in sevens, as well, as Hanson has earned several caps for Ohio-based select side 1823.
All-Rugby East 2nd Team Forwards:
Luis Carpio, prop, St. Bonaventure: As a sophomore, Carpio was deemed All-Rugby East Honorable Mention in 2014, but that was as a number eight. This season, Bonnies lead man Clarence Picard moved his mobile forward to the front row and received great production from Carpio.
Donny Goff, prop, Army: Goff’s value on the pitch goes beyond set pieces and loose play. The senior from Framingham, Mass., is also massively important to West Point as the team’s forwards captain.
Andrew Rossi, hooker, Iona: The Gaels’ scrum held up quite well against a plethora of quality front rows in the Rugby East Conference. Rossi, one of Iona’s two captains, was a big reason why.
Phil Jackling, lock, St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies were often outsized in the scrum this season, but Jackling gave his squad a puncher’s chance. A powerful senior who’s good on defense, but can also break a gain line with ball in hand, Jackling managed to collect three tries this season.
Evan Staikos, lock, Iona: Some locks are only tasked with doing the dirty work in the engine room. Other second rowers, like Staikos, feed off the dirty work, but also produces a lot of go-forward ball.
Sean Mahon, flanker, Penn State: While the Nittany Lions’ openside flanker, Malcolm May, receives a ton of attention, Mahon had a great season at blindside flanker. Using his generous stature to the best of his ability, the senior rarely, if ever, misses a tackle.
Maninderjit Singh, flanker, Buffalo: Another season and another 2nd Team selection for Singh. His long hair makes him easy to pick out on film, but what really catches one’s eye is his tough ball carrying and his relentless effort in defense.
John Sullivan, No. 8, St. Bonaventure: A graduate student at St. Bonaventure, Sullivan was rewarded with a fifth season with the Bonnies – and the team was glad to have him back. Sullivan has minimal weaknesses in his game, but his ability to both break tackles and offload in traffic make him special.
All-Rugby East 2nd Team Backs:
Jake Banarhall, scrum half, Army: It was a neck-and-neck race between Banarhall and Jimmy Ronan for the 1st Team scrum half spot, and if it weren’t for missing time due to injury down the stretch of the season, Banarhall might have beat out Penn State’s sophomore. Even though Army’s backs captain had to watch some action from the sidelines, Banarhall was still able to double his try-scoring total from last fall.
John Grasso, fly half, Buffalo: The Bulls showed a ton of improvement in the second half of the fall, which included a 103-17 demolishing of Brockport, and Grasso’s move to fly half played a big part in the team’s development.
Cameron Hargis, center, Army: West Point’s roster is full of tough guys, and Hargis is one of the tougher ones. The Texas-born inside center left opposing back lines bruised and battered on his way to posting five tries.
Chris Vakasisikakala, center, Wheeling Jesuit: Last season, Inosi Kau was a massive presence in the Cardinals’ midfield. Kau’s absence from the program this fall opened the door for Vakasisikakala to make a name for himself, and that’s exactly what he did.
Alex Faison-Donahoe, wing, Kutztown: Faison-Donahoe and teammate Vetekina Malafu make up one of the most dangerous wing pairings in the country. After an All-American season in 2014, the Golden Bears’ rangy speedster has been on the Men’s Eagles Sevens radar. In fact, if he didn’t miss Rugby East match time due to High Performance Camps with the Eagles, he might have beat out one of the 1st Team wingers.
David Huff, wing, Army: After a sensational freshman season that made Huff a 1st Team performer in 2014, the West Point danger-man followed it up with another productive season. Similar to Kutztown’s wing pairing, Army has a dynamic duo of its own in Huff and Luke Heun.
Trent Hensley, full back, Kutztown: With so many talented players throughout Kutztown’s program, there are always a few standouts that go relatively unnoticed, and Hensley is one of those guys. A smart player who puts himself in position to break lines in attack, Hensley has found the try zone six times this fall.
All-Rugby East Honorable Mentions Forwards:
Zach Barnes, prop, Penn State
Pete Basnight, No. 8, Army
Andrew DeColli, prop, Kutztown
Tom Drietlein, No. 8, Buffalo
Andrew Iscaro, hooker, Penn State
Max Lum, prop, Wheeling Jesuit
Mike Marino, No. 8, Iona
Hugh McAllister, lock, Wheeling Jesuit
Mitchell Sanderson, lock, Army
John Van Wyk, prop, Kutztown
All-Rugby East Honorable Mention Backs:
Christian Artuso, fly half, St. Bonaventure
CJ Burnes, center, West Virginia
Luke Ellis, scrum half, West Virginia
Jordan Farrant, center, St. Bonaventure
Luke Heun, wing, Army
Austin Hoover, fly half, West Virginia
Tyler May, wing, Penn State
Ike Onwukanjo, wing, Buffalo
John Sage, center, Kutztown
Kevin Trotter, full back, Penn State
Rugby East Freshman of the Year – Kevin Trotter, Penn State: It’s no easy job replacing a player as dependable as full back Joe Kelly, but that’s exactly the task that was put forth to Trotter. Not only is Trotter excellent in contact, and possesses great offloading instincts, but his kicking game and communication behind the Nittany Lions defense was flat out special for freshman.
Rugby East Forward of the Year – Wes Hartmann, Kutztown: Following in the footsteps of Golden Bear alumni Niku Kruger and Mike Lawrenson, Hartmann is another South African-born player who has enjoyed a decorated career at Kutztown. Manning the back of the Golden Bears’ scrum in the number eight jumper, Hartmann has a combination of strength and skill that allows him to run through would-be tacklers as easily as he can offload to one of his many talented teammates.
Rugby East Back of the Year – Robert Stortz, Kutztown: Stortz was back in maroon this fall for a fifth season as a graduate student at Kutztown – and boy were the Golden Bears delighted to have him back. A two-time All-American who was coming off a summer in which he individually excelled in several top-level sevens tournaments, Stortz was once again making line breaks at will throughout the Rugby East season. Having been featured in several back line positions during his career at Kutztown, this year Stortz ran amuck from the outside center position.
Rugby East Player of the Year – Malcolm May, Penn State: Everything one would want out of an openside flanker can be found in May’s game. The former High School All-American is an absolute beast with ball in hand, and has remarkable strength around the ruck that allows him to poach balls at will. When called upon, he delivered, as evidenced by a five-match stretch in which May scored at least one try in each of the games.
Rugby East Coach of the Year – Blake Burdette, Penn State: Fellow first-year Rugby East coach Matt Sherman did an excellent job with Army, and Kutztown has been so consistently excellent over the years that it has become easy to gloss what a great work Doc Jones and his staff at Kutztown does on a yearly basis. All of this without mentioning the turnaround Iona has witnessed in just two seasons under Bruce McLane’s watch. However, Burdette raised Penn State’s already high level of play in his first few months in State College, Pa. The Nittany Lions’ continuous improvement over the fall culminated in a 24-15 win over Kutztown to close the season.