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Schuylkill with ball. Evan Lappen photo

After the first weekend of DI play in the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC), it’s still too early to tell how the division will shake out. Last year, the MAC was represented by Schuylkill River in the postseason, as they advanced to the DI quarterfinals. With the new season upon us, teams have reloaded for their opportunity for the top prize.

SCHUYLKILL RIVER
After finishing fourth in the regular season, Schuylkill River rode a hot streak in the MAC playoffs all the way to the conference championship. Schuylkill was then trounced in the national quarterfinals, 59-8, by Metropolis.  

“[We were] exposed to another level, for which we were unprepared. The final result of that match was more of a harsh wake up call, than a disappointment or sense of failure. The lessons learned in that environment are the building blocks of how we will approach this season,” said Schuylkill coach Bill Jalbert.

“We learned that you cannot underestimate any team in the league, regardless of their standings in the table or their performance in the week(s) before.”

All but two players, who are dealing with injuries, will be returning this season. Jalbert expects every player who puts on the jersey to contribute to the team's success. 

“If the players adhere to our structure and systems, every one of them will make an impact at some point in the season,” he said. “Based on the current team psyche, it would be impossible to predict any player's individual performance consistently resulting in positive outcomes. The truth is, the nature of the game dictates any single player can make an impact because his 14 teammates worked to create an opportunity for them to do so.”

Schuylkill River is excited for this season and making another national playoff run.

NORFOLK BLUES
Last season, the Norfolk Blues built a commanding lead in DI, finishing with a regular season record of 12-2 and the top seed in the MAC playoffs. In the opening round of the playoffs, though, Norfolk narrowly lost to Schuylkill River, 17-15.

“Last year we learned that on any given day in the MAC, any team can beat you,” said Blues coach Chris Porter. “Our playoff loss to Schuylkill River didn't sit well with many of our players, and they are working hard to put that memory behind them.”

This season, the team will be a composite of 15-20 returning players and about 15 new players to the Blues. Porter is looking to scrumhalf Dutch Jones to make an impact and lead the club. The forward pack will count on the veteran leadership of Fred Wintermantel and Jimmy Smith to get the most out of second-year players Doc Irey and Cecil Garber IV.

In the backline, Norfolk has John Leo, John Cameron and Anthony Kowalski to help anchor the attack. Additionally, two rookies, Jake Humphrey and Dylan Powell, will be put in a position to contribute to the Blues’ success.

“As always, we expect to be competitive in every game,” said Porter. “Our goal is to win the MAC and get back to the national playoffs.”

BALTIMORE-CHESAPEAKE
The Brumbies of Baltimore-Chesapeake are looking to build off their second-place finish last year.

“Good, structured phase play only goes so far,” said BC coach Steve Elliott. “If you have a bad day in your fundamental skillsets, you will lose.”

The team will be going into this season with pretty much the same horses it had last season. Look for USA High Performance Camp invitee Tyler Barberi to continue his standout play. Coach Elliot said that “Tyler's exposure to the USA high performance program will only help him and, by extension, us to do better things.”

POTOMAC EXILES
The big news of the summer in DI was the merger of two storied clubs, the Potomac Athletic Club and the Maryland Exiles, forming the Potomac Exiles. Observing the wealth of talent in the area and the number of teams vying for that talent, the two clubs decided to pool their resources in order to compete on the national stage. C

Coach J’son Townes plans for his team to go far this year and finish with a championship. To win the championship, “is and will always be our goal going into every season, and I think with the players we have, that it is a realistic goal,” Townes said.

The Exiles will look for dynamic players like backs Conor Mannix and Aki Raymond to contribute each game. Prop Robert Garvis is on the fringe of the national team and spent the past five months in New Zealand working on his play. He’ll return to New Zealand in December. Three former National Team players, Marc Crick, Owen Lentz and Ben Wiedemer, are the backbone of the team with still plenty to prove.

Unfortunately, a large hole in the starting 15 will have to be filled after the loss of Hannibal Vaivoa to an ACL tear. Coach Townes said he was, “one of our main players who is going to be impossible to fully replace so other players are going to have to step up to help fill that void as much as possible.”

Chris Mahony, who played for the New Zealand Universities team, Auckland Blues NPC, and Oxford teams, will bring in a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team as the new head coach.

RALEIGH VIPERS
The Raleigh Vipers were on the outside looking in last season, missing the playoffs by four points. The Vipers will try to build on the last part of last season, where they put together a strong second half.

“We are not going to be the biggest team, so we are relying more on being more fit and pushing the pace in the matches to wear down the opposition,” said coach Rick Bell. “It worked in our spring matches, but not when we stopped play and our own phases with penalties and/or turnovers.”

Raleigh unfortunately lost a key player, flyhalf/fullback Greg Hesler, when he moved to Orlando in the offseason. To fill the void, they have recruited several new players that look to be great additions including lock Nick Zitani, scrumhalf Jared Belovich, Scott Guillen and Justin Reed.

“We will be a very good team and hard to beat if we can take care of our own possessions, not give away the ball and penalties which plagued us last season,” Bell said.

PITTSBURGH HARLEQUINS
A new coach is in town for the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Harlequins. Ludovico Martin, from Buenos Aires, will try to change the culture of the club and bring them to the top of the division once again.

“The success of the team is highly dependent on the cohesion of the human group,” said Marting. “As much is the commitment of the members, the bigger the possibilities are to succeed.”

Pittsburgh returns about 60-percent of its team from last year and expects contributions from new players like Brice Myers. Martin expects captain Nick Koon, flyhalf Tyler Hollingsworth, and scrumhalf Jason Ewing to make a significant impact and lead by example this season.

On his team’s prospects this season, Martin said, “We expect to consolidate a competitive team and reach the highest position.”

NOVA
Last season, Northern Virginia (NOVA) was a mix of young and experienced players in a building phase. “Last season, all 25 of our players got a chance to play A-side during the season,” said NOVA coach Mike Sodhi. “We were short on numbers, so as a coach, I got to teach new players the game and take the team back to basics.”

Sodhi will treat one game at a time and try to mesh the styles of the returning new guys with those of the experienced veterans. NOVA has a returning core of 10 experienced players and a contingent of 20-25 that have recently joined the club.

Sodhi hopes the new players will make an impact in seasons to come, but isn’t sure if they will effect this season. Players like Adam Henderson, Joey Tropea, Will Hagen, and Terris Gregory will be relied upon to lead the team to victories and help new players become stronger and learn from their mistakes.