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Friday, October 7, 2016

Rugby East Drop: KU’s First Testing at WJU



by Ryan J. Trost
This is American Rugby – Rugby East


One of the great storylines on the season so far has been the plight of Wheeling-Jesuit. Rough and tumble 4th place team in the conference a few years running, almost goes into the season without a coach. Then gets their coach and goes on a tear, focusing on getting back to the playoffs and taking more conference scalps on the way.

Through the early part of the season we can probably be excused, but another story that perhaps hasn’t been getting enough press is Kutztown’s youth movement. As the defending conference champion and perennial D1A Top-10 residents, they have a massive target on their chests every week. Yet, here they are starting freshmen athletes in pivotal roles, still winning their first two games by an average margin of 75 points.

Quietly, but surely the Golden Bears’ machine rolls on. They are reloading at key positions, while the base of the tight five and outer backline are in the conversation for All-American representation. Players like Johan Van Wyk, Murphy Lil, Jonathan Sage and Kina Malafu have become such regular names on the scoring sheet over the years that they almost get taken for granted.

Take the jump to read more.

Head Coach Gregg ‘Doc’ Jones of course does not treat them as such. Jones is a strikingly chill interview, but there is genuine warmth to his understated appreciation for his star players. “So solid.” “Very strong,” he says. It’s all just matter of fact stuff, but delivered with a knowing grin that says so much more.

Those compliments aren’t taken lightly by his players, as Alex Faison-Donahoe attests, “There’s nothing better than him being truly happy with your play. You always want to win for the Doctor and to impress him.”

Given the history of these two teams Kutztown will expect to win again for Jones. He is aware though of Wheeling’s uptick in form, though he measures his impressions of the Cardinals as well. “To tell you the truth, Jesuit is always tougher at home. We’re expecting them to step up,” he said. “We kind of wore them down in the second half last year… I don’t expect that will be the case this time.”

Considering the way Wheeling has been playing, and that they match-up favorably in a couple of those key positions, we think this year should be a closer match as well. Like we said, Jones has an interesting mix of youth and experience throughout the starting XV. His starting Fly-half, Jackson Clark out of Greenville, SC was outstanding in KU’s first two matches. He has Jones’ unequivocal trust, which says a lot considering players like Sage are in the line at 12, etc. too.

Clark will be matching wits on Saturday with Wheeling’s Player of the Year candidate, Allan Hanson. Hanson famously returned to school this semester after a spring stint with PRO Rugby’s Ohio Aviators. He has been absolutely on fire as the Cardinal’s backline maestro. With more adversity in his and the team’s wake this week, we expect his focus to be ratcheted up to yet another degree in a game of this magnitude.

Both Jones and Wheeling head coach, Tommy Duffy are keenly aware of the kind of playmaker Clark is too, however. While at The Citadel in South Carolina, Duffy additionally worked with James Island High School rugby and has first-hand experience going against Clark over the past three years. “Oh, he’s very good,” said Duffy. “I can’t wait to see him. I was hoping his family would make up to WV for the game.”

In talking more about Kutztown, Duffy has nothing but respect for Jones and his team. “Any one of his players, 1 – 15, can be a playmaker at any point, so we’re preparing for every one of them.” Duffy continued, “They have a great pack, but I think we match up really well against them. That will be one excellent game to watch.”

Truly, both Jesuit and Kutztown build much of their platform off of Forward play. In the scrums and breakdowns there are sure to be a number of excellent head to head contests. The battle at Hooker should be incredible. USA Falcon/Ohio Aviator alum, Peter Malcolm for the Cardinals has been garnering many well-deserved headlines again this year. Also deserving of more press though is Kutztown’s Van Wyk.  He has gone over for a hat trick in both of the Bears’ first two matches this year. He routinely earns those scoring opportunities through a particularly Golden Bear-esque blend of power and agility.

That sort of skill from KU’s big men in the loose is largely attributable to Jones’s commitment to 7s. Everyone in the KU Rugby program is involved in the 7 a side game during the spring, no matter their size. They all run, they all pass it wide and they always have title contender at the CRCs.

If Wheeling keeps this in mind, and if they learn from the mistakes of Kutztown’s first two opponents on the year, they will probably want to keep the game inside. Against both Iona and West Virginia, Kutztown’s kicking game was artful. With Malafu and his counterparts timing their chases and aerial tactics very well, Clark and Sage repeatedly pinned it inside the 22. This efficiency in their barrage means KU is able to turn defensive posture into front foot opportunity at the drop of a hat.

Wheeling’s back three are good in their own right, don’t get us wrong. Joji Vakasisikakala and Killian Gause can go from 0 – 60 in heartbeat, and they have been known to counter deep kicks right back into the teeth of the wily Cardinal pack.

Still, playing a kicking and counter attacking game can turn dicey real quick against Kutztown. The Cardinals simply match up better with KU in the forwards and halfbacks. August Murphy and Hugh McAllister are both long (and strong) 2nd rowers who have dominated lineouts and A-gaps throughout the year. KU’s Nick Hohlt will be there to contest their action, no doubt, but his usual counterpart in the 2nd row, Evan Anderson is likely to be out of this contest. Jones considers Anderson to be his team’s best jumper, so this could be an area the Cardinals can win.

Senior, Andrew Waggoner out of Xavier High School in NYC has been the kind of unsung hero the Cardinals love in their back row. He is a workhorse at #8 and should be a key ingredient in the Jesuit plans. He and his flanking mates Tyler Ozment (Sr.) and Orion Mann (Jr.) will match skills with KU’s young, but deft back rowers. Joe Thatcher, Sam Devine and Angel Santiago have received praise from Jones as well. I like Waggoner a lot, he is a talisman, but I think Kutztown’s threesome may just be athletic enough to make a little bit more of a difference overall. Don’t put it past Ozment, Mann and Waggoner to pull some yeoman-like heroics though. This unit match will be fierce, without a doubt.

As for coaches’ opinions, Jones was affable over the phone this week, teasing that given home field advantage and the bonus of two professionals on the squad, book makers might give Wheeling a 7 – 12 point edge in the game. As eluded to earlier though, Doc is a wry character and he tempered the underdog act with another matter of fact quip, “They have to beat us though, Defending Champs. We have a culture and tradition of winning, so we’re not about to lay down for anybody.”

Well said, Doc. Here’s to both teams live up to their growing standards and both standing tall in the end, no matter the scoreboard.

*Faison-Donahoe is not with the Bears at the moment. He has only one semester of eligibility left at KU and will use it this spring on the road to a hopeful National Title in college 7s.



W
L
T
PF
PA
PD
BT
PTS
Out of Conf.
National Ranking
1
Army
5
0
0
278
22
256
4
24
1 - 0
#8
2
Penn Sate
4
0
0
308
29
279
4
20
2 - 0
#4
3
Wheeling
3
0
0
176
46
130
3
15
1 - 1
4
Kutztown
2
0
0
172
22
150
2
10
0 - 0
#7
5
St. Bonaventure
1
3
0
99
227
-128
2
6
0 - 1

6
Iona
1
3
0
52
93
-41
1
5
2 - 0

7
UB
0
3
0
31
164
-133
1
1
1 - 1

8
Delaware
0
3
0
10
211
-201

0
0 - 1

9
West Virginia
0
4
0
20
310
-290

0
0 - 1

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