Catholic Rugby Goes for Perfection
(An introductory note for the rugby folks complaining about the lack of coverage: You're absolutely right. Mea culpa. I've been caught up in other pursuits. For the record, I did go watch PAC Rugby beat the snuffleupagas out of Life University of Atlanta, 28-7. The outcome was never in doubt, and Life didn't score until the final moments. For me, the clear highlight was this: a PAC guy had to be subbed out in the second half with some sort of knee injury. Most of these guys, incidentally, are taped or bandaged up in one way or another, so it's hard to tell which injuries are especially serious. Anyhow, this one guy gets taken out with a knee injury and limps over to talk to a comrade.
"Maybe it's just a meniscus," the bandaged guy says.
"Ah, who needs a meniscus," his comrade says. "I don't have either one.")
So anyhow, this coming weekend, Catholic rugby goes for a perfect fall: a 3-0 preseason, a 4-0 regular season, and a 3-0 postseason with a win in the Potomac Rugby Union Division 2 final against Salisbury. Salisbury, you'll note, is a major rugby power, having won PRU titles in nine of the past 12 years and claimed three national championships in that spell. They're 7-0 this fall, with an average margin of victory of more than 40 points. Plus, take a look at this guy. Scary, right?
Here's what you need to know about Catholic: when current coach Bill Kiniry played there a decade ago, he had a teammate nicknamed "Hollywood," because of the flashy gold chain he used to wear. Catholic's current captain, John Ivanoff, is also nicknamed "Hollywood." Because he's from Hollywood, Fla. That's the difference.
See, rugby players, as you've probably heard, have this reputation for being a little bit wild. Some ruggers take pride in that. Others don't, especially when they're running a collegiate team that's trying to get increased support and respect from its administration so that it doesn't, for example, have to play home games at four different locations all over the metropolitan area. The Catholic team had that wild reputation when Kiniry played at Catholic--"a little bit of a thuggish mentality," he said--and apparently it got even worse after he left. Then Gus Ventura, a Navy commander, took over the program in 2002 and set about restoring its image. Kiniry caught on as a volunteer assistant about a year and a half ago and took over the program this fall, after Ventura was transferred to California.
And Kiniry said his players are almost too nice; "they're nice kids, nice respectable gentlemen," he said. "Sometimes it drives me crazy; sometimes, in rugby, you can't be as nice as you want to be."
But the point is, Kiniry wants no part of the wild-and-crazy image--his current seniors, he said, are "setting traditions for this team that aren't violations of school policy." And so, he told me how many of his kids were engineers, and how many want to go to graduate school, and how many are honors students. Ivanoff, the team captain, is a biomedical engineer with a GPA of about 3.8 who's thinking about a Masters in biomechanical engineering. He, too, said the team is trying to shed the image of "obscene amounts of drinking" and general lunacy.
"We're Honors students, we're on the Dean's list, half our team are engineers," he said. "We had a bad image from just a couple guys on the team, but we're a different team now, you know? Trying to get a different face, that's the whole thing. We're a rugby team; we get out there and play 80 minutes, play our hearts out. To have a bad reputation for our school, that's not what we're looking for."
Which is not to say the team doesn't exhibit some of the classic rugby charm. Their slogan, for example, is "25 years of pale Irish thighs," and Ivanoff said the club's former president "has probably the whitest thighs I've seen in my entire life." I personally saw a bunch of the guys at the PAC game last weekend, just before their semifinal win over UMBC; they spent about half the time watching the action and half the time punching each other. And the team has an absurd abundance of excellent nicknames, starting with Ed DeSipio, who's known as "Meathead," although Ivanoff insists he's a genius. (Other nicknames include "Brother Jacob," for a guy who has an Amish-style beard; "Ramathorn," after the "Super Troopers" character; "McHugh,"
a completely random nickname for a guy whose real name has nothing to do with McHugh; and "Sunshine," which is actually a nickname I've earned from the Washington Wizards PR staff, for my perpetually cheery attitude.)
On the pitch, as they say, Catholic was borderline-bad the past few years, and hasn't been to the mid-Atlantic playoffs in nearly a decade. (They've already clinched a berth through their performance in the Potomac Rugby Union, which feeds into MARFU. I know, it's complicated.) Last fall, the team won one game and missed the playoffs entirely. "We got our butts kicked," Kiniry said. "It wasn't fun."
Kiniry grew up a football player and intended to play that sport at Catholic before being drawn into the rugby world, and so, in his first season as a head coach, he put his team on a football-esque training regime, full of suicide sprints and up-downs and all that.
"That's the main difference between last year and this year," Ivanoff said. "We are fit, we're not just a bunch of fat guys running around the field."
The PRU final is Saturday at 2 p.m. at Accokeek Park in Maryland. Full info here. Catholic, we believe, hasn't even scored a point against the Salisbury juggernaut since dropping down to Division 2 around the turn of the century, but players and coach are brimming with confidence.
"Our kids our tough, they're motivated, they're great athletes and they've been given a forum in which to shine," Kiniry said. "I'm optimistic. There's no reason we can't beat this team."
"It'd mean a lot to our club: refinishing our image, proving to the rugby community that we're out there, we're not going to be pushed around, we're a dominant force in the PRU," Ivanoff said, before offering his prediction. "Catholic wins. Absolutely."
(As a sop to the rest of the rugby community, here's your obligatory quote on the nature of the sport, which is like the 712th time I've heard this refrain, but ruggers seem to appreciate hearing it over and over: "Rugby's a sport but it's also a brotherhood," Ivanoff said. "Look at the club teams and the men's teams. Everybody's friends, everybody sticks together, on and off the field. It's a little more special than a football team; we're friends, but we're more than friends. It's hard to put into words, to be perfectly honest with you.)
(Here's your second sop to the rest of the rugby community: the PRU Division 2 women's championships will be held on Saturday and Sunday at Duvall Field in College Park, and West Potomac RFC is playing Western Suburbs RFC for the PRU Third Division title at 1 p.m. Saturday in Manassas.)
(By the way, Ivanoff was a golf player in high school and had never seen a rugby ball before arriving at Catholic.)
Posted by: Former CUA Rugger | November 2, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: AussieAussie | November 2, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Old CUA RFC Coach | November 2, 2006 7:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Fullback15 | November 2, 2006 8:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: former president | November 2, 2006 8:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: co-captainw/dino | November 3, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: DC Rugger | November 3, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: CUA Rugby Fan | November 3, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 98 | November 3, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: former captain | November 3, 2006 12:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TDUB- Former meat | November 3, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Holding hands and skipping down the field | November 3, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 98 | November 3, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ralph M | November 3, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TW | November 3, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TW | November 3, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Potatohead Frank | November 3, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CUA Dad | November 3, 2006 8:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: UMBC Rugby | November 4, 2006 1:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dan gallgher | November 7, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 98 | November 8, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: I.R.A | November 8, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.