BOULDER, Colo. – The Rugby East Conference is one of the best collegiate rugby conferences in the country thanks to the three elite programs that finished in the top half of the standings: Army, Kutztown, and Penn State. Wheeling Jesuit showed vast improvement from its inaugural 2013 season and appears to be on the cusp of being added to the aforementioned group of storied sides.
The new kids on the block – Buffalo, Iona, and St. Bonaventure – struggled in their first seasons in Rugby East, but are fortunate to be led by knowledgeable and dedicated coaches who have a firm grasp of the high school rugby landscape on the east coast. The hope is that these squads can raise their standard of play sooner than later.
D1A Rugby, with the insightful feedback from coaches in Rugby East, has put together an All-Conference 1st Team, 2nd Team, and Honorable Mention list in order to recognize several of the student-athletes who made noticeable impacts on their teams this fall.
All-Rugby East 1st Team Forwards:
Colton Kells, Prop, Buffalo: Considering the Bulls were not able to win a single conference match, there were not many bright spots for Buffalo, but Kells was definitely one. The sophomore loose head prop is a bit undersized for the front row, but his wrestling background lends him terrific feet and he gets around the park well.
Brian McKellar, Prop, Penn State: The first of several tight five players for Penn State to appear on this list, McKellar was stellar all fall for the Nittany Lions. While typically taking care of the dirty work for Penn State, McKellar is often in the right position to take an offload in the loose.
Tommy Bashara, Hooker, Penn State: Coaches around the conference took notice of Bashara’s play. Crafty and athletic, the Nittany Lions hooker is excellent in set pieces, but can score as well – putting in three tries on the season, including a double against St. Bonaventure.
Casper Huizenga, Lock, Kutztown: A natural hooker who has also spent time playing flanker, Huizenga was forced into the second row after a rash of injuries to Kutztown’s forward pack. True to his dedication and overall skill, the former USA Rugby Junior World Cup member adapted to his new position very well.
Dan Metcalf, Lock, Penn State: A big body in the engine room, Metcalf made his presence felt in every one of Penn State’s matches this fall. Extremely valuable in the lineout, the All-American managed to dot down twice, as well.
Collum Magee, Flanker, Army: Only a special type of player is capable of captaining a side full of players trained to be leaders in their own right, and Magee has flourished in that roll. Being only one of two seniors in the first XV, Magee’s guidance of his young brothers was pivotal in West Point’s undefeated Rugby East campaign. The hard-nosed flanker, who was named D1A Player of the Week in October, scored nine tries for Army this fall.
Malcom May, Flanker, Penn State: Coming off of a summer in which he played for Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, May continues to take massive strides as a rugby player. As athletic as any loose forward in the league, May has a bright future on the pitch ahead of him.
Peter Malcom, Number Eight, Wheeling Jesuit: The 2014 All-American continues to be the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Capable of playing hooker and flanker, eight-man has suited Malcom’s fearless playmaking ability quite well. His on-the-pitch intensity is a trait coaches dream of having in a player, and helped him earn D1A Player of the Week.
All-Rugby East 1st Team Backs:
Niku Kruger, Scrum half, Kutztown: A no-brainer for 1st Team selection, Kruger is one of the finest half backs in the country. The 2014 AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American prefers to initiate the Golden Bears’ explosive offense with crisp passes from the base of the ruck, but has the strength and speed to be a dangerous attacker when he decides to tuck the ball and put the defense on its back foot using his own feet.
Thomas Del Pino, Fly half, Army: Del Pino did well to navigate a young Army backline. By making intelligent decisions and accurate passes, West Point’s No. 10 was excellent at putting his teammates in a position to break gain lines.
Nu’u Aiava, Center, Kutztown: Spending time at both center positions, Aiava scored 10 tries for the Golden Bears this fall. The one-time Junior All-American packs a sturdy punch into this 5-foot-7 frame, and has a knack for putting himself in position to take offloads at pace. Just a freshman, the Hawaii native was named D1A Player of the Week following his four-try performance against Maryland.
Andrew Fargo, Center, Army: Fargo is a prototypical West Point center – he’s a bruiser in the midfield with a high rugby IQ and ball skills to match. The transfer from the University of Washington scored four tries this fall, and will be counted on heavily this spring when the Brothers march towards the D1A Rugby Playoffs.
David Huff, Wing, Army: An explosive edge player, Huff led Army with 11 tries. Possessing game-breaking speed, the freshman from Anchorage, Alaska, gives West Point a weapon in its back three capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch.
Robert Stortz, Wing, Kutztown: A one-time Sevens All-American, Stortz returned from ACL surgery just as effective with the ball in hand as he was prior to the injury. The danger man was able to cross the line 11 times even though he missed three games this fall due to a knee injury. Stortz was able to recover from his injury in time to end the fall season strong.
Logan Pearce, Full back, Army: Second in command to Magee’s lead, Pearce was the calming presence in West Point’s backline. With an accurate boot to go with try-scoring capabilities, Pearce totaled 53 points before an injury sidelined him late into the fall season. Junior Andrew Borer did a terrific job filling in for Pearce, and it will be interesting to see if Head Coach Mike Mahan finds a way to fit both into the Black Knight starting backline this spring.
All-Rugby East 2nd Team Forwards:
Zachary Barnes, Prop, Penn State: The Nittany Lions have the best forward pack in Rugby East, and Barnes is a major piece to that puzzle. A technician in the scrum, Barnes’ opposite numbers often find themselves in for long afternoons on Saturdays.
Andrew Ohmann, Prop, Wheeling Jesuit: With standout prop Max Lum successfully extending his stay in New Zealand to improve his game, someone needed to step up in the Cardinals’ front row and Ohmann was the man to do it. The junior from North Carolina helped give Wheeling Jesuit a fighter’s chance in the scrums against the powerful packs of Army, Kutztown, and Penn State.
Andrew Rossi, Hooker, Iona: While Iona may have not picked up as many wins as they were hoping to this fall, it wasn’t due to a lack of quality play in the set pieces. Rossi’s play in the number two jersey was a big part of Iona’s success in set pieces, and was one of the more experienced Gaels on the roster.
John Cullen, Lock, Iona: Like Rossi, Cullen provided much-needed size, experience, and ability to the young Iona side. More time with forward-specialized Head Coach Bruce McLane will do Cullen and his pack mates well moving forward.
Jordan Ghyzel, Flanker, Kutztown: In any other conference in America, Ghyzel is a 1st Team selection. The junior open side flanker and one-time High School All-American dotted down eight times for the Golden Bears.
Maninderjit Singh, Flanker, Buffalo: Singh, with his long, flowing locks, probably would win ‘Best Hair’ to go with his 2nd Team nod. The transfer from Buffalo State is your classic number seven with his relentless work rate, fearless tackling, and strong ball carrying.
Wesley Hartmann, Number eight, Kutztown: Similar to back row mate Ghyzel, Hartmann plays like a first teamer, but shares the position with one of the very best number eights in the country. The South African-born All-American is good in the loose, but has also helped filled the void in Kutztown’s lineouts left by the graduation of Mike Lawrenson.
All-Rugby East 2nd Team Backs:
Jake Banarhall, Scrum half, Army: Typically the smallest guy on the pitch, Banarhall plays well beyond his 5-foot-4 frame. The junior from Auburn, N.H., is quick and decisive around the tackle point, and is as reliable as they come.
Jordan Farrant, Fly half, St. Bonaventure: After playing outside center the first half of the season, Farrant moved to No. 10 for the second portion of the Bonnies’ season. A very strong tackler and known to keep his team on the front foot, the junior may just have been St. Bonaventure’s most valuable player.
Inosi Kau, Center, Wheeling Jesuit: Kau is an imposing, hard-charging inside center capable of striking fear in his opposing number. The sophomore from Fiji is part of a core group of Wheeling Jesuit players who will continue to improve the program in years to come.
John Sullivan, Center, St. Bonaventure: The inside center was responsible for grinding out the tough meters in the middle of the field for the Bonnies this season. Sullivan, who has become an expert poacher at the tackle point, was just as valuable on attack, scoring seven tries this fall.
Duke Makina, Wing, Kutztown: Makina’s place on the 2nd Team shows the immense depth Kutztown has at wing. The mammoth winger was typically used as a sub, but still managed to score several tries during the season.
Vetekina Malafu, Wing Kutztown: Like Makina, Malafu would be the focal point on attack for most teams across the country. For Kutztown, he is just one of several viable options in the No. 4-ranked team’s loaded backline.
Joe Kelly, Fullback, Penn State: A member of the 2014 Junior World Rugby Trophy team, Kelly is a sure tackler and has a knack for inserting himself in the right place at the right time in Penn State’s backline. As a result, Kelly had three multi-try performances this fall.
All-Rugby East Honorable Mention Forwards:
Alexander Vitanza, Prop (St. Bonaventure)
Greg Walker, Prop (Army)
Julian Santana, Hooker (Wheeling Jesuit)
Joseph Corrado, Lock (Penn State)
Zach Riechenbach, Lock (Wheeling Jesuit)
Peter Basnight, Flanker (Army)
Andrew Iscaro, Lock (Penn State)
Luis Carpio, Number eight (St. Bonaventure)
All-Rugby East Honorable Mention Backs:
Jimmy Ronan, Scrum half (Penn State)
Brad Frederick, Fly half (Kutztown)
Michael Marino, Center (Iona)
Michael Scarcella, Center (Iona)
Michael Eife, Wing (Penn State)
Greg Johnson, Wing (St. Bonaventure)
Trent Kensley, Full back (Kutztown)
Newcomer of the Year – Nu’u Aiava: While David Huff has been an absolute freshman sensation for Army, Aiava found himself in the center of Kutztown’s attack in just his first season on campus. Pairing his rugby instincts with his natural speed and gym-hardened frame, the former San Francisco Golden Gate backliner is one of the more dangerous threats in the country.
Forward of the Year – Collum Magee: Pete Malcom of Wheeling Jesuit might have the best overall skills of any forward in Rugby East, but Magee has meant so much to his Conference Championship-winning team that it was difficult to not name him Forward of the Year. Sure, Magee is a gritty leader, but he is also an offensive threat with a noise for the try line as well.
Back of the Year – Niku Kruger: Experience is key at the half back position, and Kutztown’s All-American scrum half has plenty of it. Kruger is a gamer and field general who may just be destined to play at the next level.
Coach of the Year – Mike Mahan, Army: Not many folks outside of West Point’s locker room believed Army had a shot at winning the Rugby East title. Coming off of a lengthy suspension that didn’t allow the Brothers to play in last fall’s conference schedule, plus the fact that Army returned just two starters, there were justifiable reasons why one picked Army to finish in the middle of the pack this fall. Instead, Mahan did all he could to get his team fit and skilled to play at the highest level of college rugby, and the team’s hard work was rewarded with a Rugby East crown.