Upper Delaware Valley Rugby Club members reflect on inaugural season

At the end of its inaugural season, coach Keith Fitzpatrick looks back on the Upper Delaware Valley Rugby Club's Summer Sevens.

Fifteen local high school athletes were introduced to Rugby this season. Practices started in the spring at Wallenpaupack Area High School gym.

When the weather would cooperate a little bit we took the practices outdoors. As the weather slowly started to improve we started gearing up for play in our first tournament in Doylestown.

As all the players reviewed their work, vacation and other summer sport commitments it became clear that it would be difficult for us to field a team of our own at any one tournament. So we reached out to other teams that were in search of players.

Opener

Our first tournament was the Doylestown Dragons Breath Tournament on a cool and misty June Saturday.

Shawn Rivera, Devin Ortiz and Anthony Ragusa made the trip to play.

Anthony and Devin played with Morris Rugby.

Devin got on the field first and put in a solid defensive shift at one point making a tackle, getting back to his feet immediately making another tackle on the next ball carrier.

It showed his commitment and work ethic that saw him develop as the summer wore on. Anthony appeared in the next game on the wing He scored the first try (touchdown) credited to an Upper Delaware Rugby player.

It was a well worked weak side move off of a scrum about 40 meters from the tryline (endzone).

Anthony linked up with the scrumhalf then used his blistering pace to leave the defenders grasping for air and scored the try under the posts. After touching the ball down you could see his grin from across the field.

Finally, Shawn joined up with Central Jersey Rugby and proved to be one of their most useful players.

Over the course of three games Shawn scored three tries including one in heavy traffic scoring with a swan dive over the tryline.

All of the guys played in at least three games and in each successive game you could see their understanding of the offensive and defensive systems and patterns of play increase.

Back in Action

The next tournament was Elizabethtown Sevens.

Shawn and Devin played with the Hempfield Knightmares from the Lancaster Area. Both featured in all three games the Knightmares played.

Shawn scored again and Devin put in a heavy defensive shift and displayed the impressive work ethic he is getting known for. After the pool games were over, Shawn opted to play with Conestoga Rugby in the semifinals and finals.

He even scored a long range try off of a beautiful break beating three defenders. Unfortunately, Conestoga narrowly missed out on winning the tournament in the finals.

The final tournament of the summer was a three games series between the Foothills Rangers and Saratoga Rugby in Saratoga NY.

Devin and JT Tirjan made the trip with Coach Tirjan to play with the Foothills Rangers. Devin bagged his first try of the summer. JT scored three and kicked 5-of-8 conversions.

By the end of the three games the Rangers emerged victorious based on points differential. The difference being JT’s slotting more of his conversion kicks than the Saratoga Rugby kicker.

New Faces

Midway through the summer the coaches were joined by Peter Gilroy a recent Wallenpaupack Area graduate and current student and rugby player at East Stroudsburg University.

He brought new energy and ideas to the team. He also shared his pathway and experience of becoming a collegiate rugby player.

We are hoping he comes back home again next summer and can continue to help with the coaching.

All of the guys gained valuable experience. They have excelled in different attacking and defending structures.

They all were struck by the supportive culture of rugby; fierce competition, hard work and respect while on the field; nothing but camaraderie, handshakes and review of highlights from the game when play is done.

They also made friends and connections with high school players with diverse backgrounds from schools in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

They will go on to form the core leadership group of the team for next summer.

As summer wound down and the return to school and fall sports loomed large, the focus for the coaches turned to recruiting. It is a goal of the club to increase the number of athletes from Paupack, and branch out to neighboring school districts.

This added depth will stand the club in good stead when the inevitable conflicts creep up over the summer with jobs, vacations and other sport camps. The future looks bright for the Upper Delaware Rugby Football Club.

A couple of the guys sat down and reflected on their learnings from the summer and their goals for the rugby club.

Shawn Rivera

•What made you try rugby this summer?

“People had always said that rugby was tougher than football for the fact they had no pads so I wanted to see if it was that bad.”

•What was your rugby highlight of the summer?

“In the E-Town tournament when the call was hands (pass to the wing) but I saw an opening and I played around 4-5 defenders for the try.”

•Do you plan to play next summer? If so what are your goals?

“Yes, I want to make it on the all-star team (U-20s) and play in college but also work on my off loads.”

•Any other reflections on Rugby Sevens or advice to a High Schooler thinking of trying it?

“Be ready for a physical sport. Also be ready to be out of breath after playing just a couple minutes. The games are 14 minutes long so make every second count and if you make a mistake don’t let it hold you back that game or the next.”

Devin Ortiz

“The reason I joined rugby was I wanted something to do over the summer. For me it was something to take my free time up but after a few practices and playing a few games I started to really enjoy the sport and what it has to offer.

“My highlight of the season would definitely be when I was scrumming against a guy who was like six inches bigger then me and about 50 lbs heavier but I pushed him back a good two feet and got the team the ball.

“My advice for any high schooler who is interested in playing is not to hesitate you don't want to hold back on it till your junior or senior year then discover you actually really enjoy the sport. All you gain from not joining early is less play time.”

JT Tirjan

“The main reason that I wanted to start playing was from hearing my dad talk so highly of the sport, and the culture that comes with it.

My highlight was definitely scoring a try the first time I ever touched the ball in a game. It also meant a lot to me having my dad there to see it.

Yes, I plan to play again next summer; and I would like to go into more tournaments and attend a collegiate camp or two.

From the time that I started sports, I've played almost every one available to me. None of them had brought out this much passion as quickly.”