As I stepped out onto the field at Long Lane for the first time since March, I didn’t quite know what to expect out of our first rugby practice. Somehow, it all felt very familiar, despite going months without formal training. As I warmed up and saw many of my teammates for the first time this semester, I felt ecstatic. From the first practice, it seemed like everyone was on the same page and ready to play hard this semester, regardless of the looming questions about our spring training. It wasn’t long before I felt the same chemistry and competitive spirit that I had experienced in my past years of playing on the team. I had come to the pitch today for a different reason, though; instead of suiting up for sevens, I was here to get the scoop on the beginning of the season.
Jake Meyer ’21, Club President and Co-Captain of the Men’s Rugby Team, discussed the return to practice as well as developments off the field. He shared that most players have responded well and are committed to make the most out of this semester. He also mentioned that the team has made significant efforts to push themselves while following the University’s guidelines of safe practices. As such, Meyer remains confident that things will only continue to get better moving forward.
A new element to practice this year has been the cohorts. These contain a mixture of experienced and newer players with the hope that they can gel in time for the spring fixtures. Although there has only been time for three practices so far, the team seems engaged and excited for the season.
While the return to the pitch has been a welcome sight in many ways, there are certainly differences practicing under the COVID-19 guidelines.
“The practices are toned back,” Meyer said. “Normally there are four practices per week during peak season with matches on weekends. Another key change is no contact with a sport that emphasizes contact.”
Even though no contact is allowed, the practices have still managed to be effective.
“There has been an increased focus upon hammering down on the fundamentals,” Meyer said. “We are very happy to try and make everything work given the circumstances.”
While returning to play has been a success for the Cardinals on the field, the most exciting developments have occurred off the pitch. Throughout the past few years, Wesleyan students have been working with other NESCAC schools towards the creation of a new league.
Although it was only codified at the New England Rugby Football Union in February, the plans for this league have been in the works for a long time.
“So far the league consists of Wesleyan, Amherst, Williams, and Trinity,” Meyer said. “If possible Wesleyan Rugby will be hosting a 7s tournament in the spring and invite those NESCAC schools.”
Beyond simply working with other NESCAC schools, this new league aims to bring a more competitive element to Wesleyan Rugby.
“The league will offer a welcome step up in competition as some of these schools are very good and have strong rugby programs,” Meyer said. “And it logically makes sense to pit Wes against schools that we have a strong history with.”
With all this excitement surrounding the team, it is natural to consider how Wesleyan Rugby will recruit players.
“Given the WSA guidelines, it is a fixed recruiting period now,” Casimir Fulleylove-Golob ’21 said. “In prior years we have been able to recruit across the semester but due to COVID stipulations that have us training in strict cohorts, we cannot add to our roster. We have had to rejig how we look at recruiting. This means that what we have been focusing on has been trying to boost our media and putting us out there on WesAdmits.”
Another channel the rugby team has focused on is recruitment of fall varsity athletes.
“We are talking to varsity athletes who missed out on their farewell season and just want to have a last season at Wesleyan, assuming we can play in the spring,” Fulleylove-Golob said.
More than anything else, Wesleyan Rugby is embracing the challenge of integrating new players onto the team.
“I think there are going to be a few viewing sessions of games over Zoom using screen sharing so we can all watch rugby together,” Fulleylove-Golob said.
Events like these will be essential as larger in-person social events have been put on pause due to the COVID-19 guidelines. When asked how the rookies were taking on the season, Meyer had only positive news to report.
“It’s been going very well,” Meyer said. “Eamon [Hicks ’24] is an experienced vet of the game, meanwhile players like John [Vernaglia ’22] and Quinn [Pierson ’24] have caught on very quickly. Although there is no way to incorporate them in early fall matches, as Cas calls it ‘a baptism of fire,’ the other captains and myself are confident they will be more than ready for potential fixtures come springtime.”
Note: John Vernaglia ’22 is a Sports Editor at The Argus.
Jack McEvoy can be reached at email@example.com.