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In the Keystone’s opening week, all eyes are on a pretty heated Philadelphia rivalry – St. Joe’s versus Temple. These teams met twice last season, with St. Joe’s taking both contests. The fall regular season match was close, 28-23, while the Keystone Semifinal game was a little more decisive, 38-3.
St. Joe’s is blooding a new coach in Dan Yarusso. Formerly the head man at Stony Brook, Yarusso brings a fresh perspective and some added organizational skills to the Hawks.
St. Joe’s opened its season with a respectable 35-24 loss to Delaware last week. It was Yarusso’s first game at the helm, and he liked what he saw out of his new batch of players.
“They certainly had a lot of fight. We came out swinging, scored the first try of the match. To Delaware’s credit, they bounced back and put a few tries on us,” said Yarusso.
“In the second half we started to come back and got within four. Unfortunately, we had a little miscommunication at the end there, and they put it away on us. But I was really enthused with the fight the guys had.’
Fight is something you could argue the Hawks have lacked in the past. They’ve not lacked talent or pedigree, as St. Joe’s routinely draws in players from some of the best high school programs in the country. Yarusso’s biggest challenge is putting that potential in motion.
“The message I came in with was that Bronx Tale message –the worst thing in the world is a waste of talent,” said Yarusso.
“With the pedigree they’re coming from, the Gonzagas, the Xaviers, the St. Peter’s, the St. Joe’s Prep, you really want to see them do well, and I think they’re buying into that they have something special. Still a young team. We’ve got a fantastic junior class, from what I’ve seen so far, and the freshmen that came in are right there behind them pushing these veteran players.”
The most outstanding junior is No. 8 Adam Duignan, a Xavier product. He’s a strong runner from the base of the ruck, and a strong leader.
“He’s certainly the leader for us. He’s kind of been my go-to guy since the interview process, really. I think he just brings that physical element to the game,” said Yarusso of Duignan. “My style with moving the ball and not just being a ground and pound team, I think our forwards fit into it, and I think Adam leads that, where he’s got the speed, he’s got the hand skill to do that.”
Key in the effort to move the ball fluidly is freshman flyhalf Jimmy Wolfer, another Xavier product.
“Leaving Stony Brook losing out on [All Empire Conference flyhalf] PJ [Abelien], coming down and getting another flyhalf who’s at that level is pretty amazing, and he’s a freshman,” clamored Yarusso. “He started for us against UD, and you wouldn’t be able to tell if he was a freshman or a fifth-year senior.”
Elsewhere in the Keystone, defending champ Pitt hosts West Chester and Shippensburg travels to West Virginia.