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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.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 2, 2006; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Rugby  
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BTW - For a small school, Catholic has a long and solid rugby history behind it as well - having once played in the PRU division one and making the national collegiate playoffs in 97 only to be eliminated in the round of 16, losing to semi-finalist Stanford. They can also lay claim to an All-American that year.

Unfortunately, when school support waivered for this nationally ranked program they plunged in quality, almost near death. Gus nursed them back to health and it seems Bill has them on the path to respectability.

Good to see them fighting thier way back into the playoffs. Go Cardinals!!!!

Posted by: Former CUA Rugger | November 2, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

And CU hosted the men's final four in 93 and the collegiate final four in 94!!!

Posted by: AussieAussie | November 2, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Bill Kiniry and Patrick Delaney have done an excellent job coaching this squad. They have great team leadership from Club Pres Steve Sizer and Captain John Ivanhoff.

I will always remember my four years at CUA as one of my finest rugby moments.

Congrats Ruggers! Go CARDINALS!

Posted by: Old CUA RFC Coach | November 2, 2006 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Catholic did score points against Salisbury since dropping to DII, in 2000, we score the opening try of the game and got trounced after that. 27-5 I think. Colin McCarthy (Winger) scored in his first game. The original Hollywood also played in that game.

Posted by: Fullback15 | November 2, 2006 8:43 PM | Report abuse

My thighs really are that pale.

Posted by: former president | November 2, 2006 8:58 PM | Report abuse

Is Hollywood trying to say that we were fat and running around the field? i think he did say that. but whatever, the team right now deserves to be where they are. they work hard and it shows on the field. congratulations boys! win it cause you worked for it.

Posted by: co-captainw/dino | November 3, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Lets go CU. Make DC proud

Posted by: DC Rugger | November 3, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Kick some SU ass!

Posted by: CUA Rugby Fan | November 3, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

there will be no holding hands and picking tomatoes. best of luck CU.

Posted by: 98 | November 3, 2006 11:52 AM | Report abuse

congrats on the success fellas, you've earned it. don't hold back tomorrow it's yours for the taking.

Posted by: former captain | November 3, 2006 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Train Keeps Rollin'!
Go Sharks!!

Posted by: TDUB- Former meat | November 3, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Go get'm CU, make Coach Overalls proud.

Posted by: Holding hands and skipping down the field | November 3, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

the best is yet to come!
the best is yet to come!
the best is yet to come!

good luck guys!

Posted by: 98 | November 3, 2006 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I once hooked up with a cute rugger from CUA but he never called me back, where are you my lttle Kabarback?

Posted by: Ralph M | November 3, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Who's up for some nude rugby?

Posted by: TW | November 3, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Someone left a pair of docksiders and green pants at my house. You can pick them up at any time.

Posted by: TW | November 3, 2006 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I AM!! I AM!!

Posted by: Potatohead Frank | November 3, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

The rugby team of '06 - '07 is awesome! I've coached some sports in my time with success and can tell you... Coach Kiniry has what it takes. As far as the CUA admin, they just don't get it, and from what I can see, really don't want to. We're here from upstate NY to see the championship game this weekend. We'll see if any of the CUA admin slumbers by

Posted by: CUA Dad | November 3, 2006 8:59 PM | Report abuse

We're going to enjoy watching the triumph over Salisbury, its about time...

Posted by: UMBC Rugby | November 4, 2006 1:15 AM | Report abuse

whatever happened to the "we're jerks" CUA rugby sign. it was horked from quincy street in 2001 and has never surfaced. hurrumph.

Posted by: dan gallgher | November 7, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

The 'we are jerks' slogan was created by a rugger named IRA. (class '98/'99)
Lasted in 1232 till '01? Nice.

Posted by: 98 | November 8, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse

"We are jerks" was an idea for a tshirt but the captains (nerds) didnt want it, it can still be done if Coach K wants it, he knows how to find me.

yes Bob, nerds

Posted by: I.R.A | November 8, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

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