Springfield College athletics are notorious for having successful teams on display each year.
During the fall, there will be a lot of talk about football, or the men’s and women’s soccer teams, and the rest of the fall sports that are working their best to achieve greatness.
However, it is not just the Division III athletes that are working up a sweat on the autumn nights; the men’s rugby team at Springfield College is a club sport, yet they play like they belong at the most elite level.
The team just finished another successful fall campaign while finishing the regular season 5-1, after going 4-2 the previous season.
The rugby team then headed into the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference championship after they beat rival Western Connecticut 49-8 in their final regular season match.
It all came down to the championship game against Central Connecticut State University. Men’s rugby was edged by the Blue Devils 28-21, but their hard-fought effort is what should be most remembered. “We played our best rugby of the season when it mattered the most,” said head coach Jon Maneen.
The championship game displayed the team’s toughness and well-balanced play from the group as a whole. “The forwards were ferocious up front and secured the ball the entire game while the speed and finesse of our back line tore up the defense on multiple occasions,” said Maneen.
Losing meant the ticket to Nationals would not be possible, but in no shape or form did it take away the season men’s rugby had. “Even though we lost, we’re still really proud of how far we’ve come as a team,” said junior and Co-captain Pat Stefanski.
Springfield’s road to success was not easy starting from the beginning. After earning a loss in their first game of the season against CCSU 28-7, the team racked up five straight wins.
Their path to success was not the path most traveled. Believe it or not, the rugby team is seen as undersized and most opponents looked at them as a victory before the match was even in progress. “Everyone comes in thinking they’re going to run over us,” said Stefanski.
It is the practices and preparation that have caused Springfield to do the dominating. “Our practices are simple. They are formed around perfecting the basics and areas of improvement. We mastered these and were very successful,” said Maneen.
Springfield has had many highlights throughout the season. Following their opening loss to CCSU, the team edged out WPI 7-5 in a monsoon. There was also a victory over Westfield State that was another momentum swinger early in the season. “We gave them their first regular season loss in four years,” said Stefanski.
Winning in a monsoon and giving rival Westfield State their first regular season loss in four years was a part of saving their season. “Everything’s been a must win,” said Stefanski.
Being able to win games under the pressure of knowing that championship hopes could be crumbled at any moment was not an easy task for Springfield.
It was the leadership of the team that ultimately glued the team to success. “Our captains did a great job of controlling the team this year,” said Maneen.
It was Stefanski who was named a captain and also asked to lead the forwards while senior captain Ben Middel cleared the path for the backs.
It was not just the official captains that possessed leadership for the team, junior Jay Bonti played multiple positions and also made a big impact. “I have been very proud of [Bonti] and he will be our leader moving into nationals next year,” said Maneen.
The season may have ended earlier than the team had hoped for, but their toughness will never be questioned. “Springfield Rugby is relentless and fought every game to the end, and I couldn’t have asked any more from them,” said Maneen.
Greg Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org