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With the merger of the regional sub-divisions and the promotion of one of the best DII clubs in the country, the landscape of DII in the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) has completely changed. Last season, the division was separated into a seven-team North and a five-team South. This year, the sub-divisions have been combined into a single 11-team league that spans Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Each team will play each other once in a round-robin format for a total of 10 games in the season per club.
With the automatic promotion of the divisional champions in the MAC, Rocky Gorge was moved up to DI and the DIII Champion, Old Gaelic, has taken its place. Additionally, Blackthorn has dropped down to DIII.
After head coach Struan Murray accepted the same position at the University of Delaware, former coach Bob Weir has retaken the reins of the Wilmington. Commenting on the state of the league and his club, president Matthew Weik said, “We expect a much improved MAC and I thought the MAC was strong overall last year. I am not without a sense of remorse to see Rocky Gorge leave the conference, but I feel the MAC is every bit as competitive as last year. Last season, we learned how important depth was for a team to make a strong playoff push. We have a good mix of experience and youth in our club.”
With the reinstatement of the Delaware rugby program, Wilmington will feel the loss of a few players, but the cupboard's not bare. Former Delaware 7s star Pat Goldring will return to the team and new recruits in Jamie Gregory from Kutztown and Kevin Hoelzer from Norwich should make an immediate impact. The new captain, fullback Todd Gallan, has emphasized an increased role in the backline, and center Steve Lange provides the rare combo of size and speed in the middle to compliment Wilmington’s edge players.
Long-time player Kevin Barry sees that the revamped division will be very competitive and Wilmington will not just easily walk through the league. “Philadelphia-Whitemarsh, Doylestown, Richmond, and Washington Irish are all strong rivals for the DII title. In the six games we played against those sides last year, we could have lost any of them. Most of those games only had a score between the teams in the end, and I believe we were behind at one stage in all of those games, so we are under no illusions that we are just going to saunter through the MAC division.”
2014 was Philadelphia-Whitemarsh’s (PWRFC) first year in DII, and the club went 9-2 losing in the conference semifinals to Rocky Gorge. New head coach Kyle Antoian commented on the success of last year stating, “Overall, we were very pleased with our results. We need to continue playing better opposition to continue improving. Our guys were used to the slower pace of play at DIII, and once we hit Rocky Gorge in the playoffs, the gap in fitness/skill was clear. Our goal this year is to play as much tough competition as possible while working with our core group of guys to improve our cohesiveness and phase-play.
“We're returning more or less the same group of guys from last year including a few new recruits out of local HS/College program and guys that have recently moved back to the Philly area. There is a lot of talent in the local Philadelphia colleges and we hope to continue to attract new players to our club to continue our growth.
“At a minimum, we expect to find ourselves in the top four of the division, but our real goal is to try and compete for the MAC's bid to Nationals. With Rocky Gorge on to DI, the feeling around here is DII is up for grabs, and we feel like we're in as good a position as anyone to claim the division.”
In last season’s conference semifinal against Wilmington, the Richmond Lions gave everything they had and almost pulled off the upset, losing 19-14 in the final minutes of the game. Head coach Matt Robinette’s main takeaway from last season wass that, “we can compete with DII teams. It's a strong league, but up for grabs. We won't be sneaking up on anyone now and need to compete hard to win... We will be taking this season one week at a time. I do expect some players that didn't have a starting role last year to step up and make an impact.”
Robinette has high hopes for Mike Elliott, Joseph Forkins, Michael Spurlock and Alex Czajkowski this year. The play of Czajkowski caught the attention of the coaches for the Capital Union Select Side and he earned a spot on the all-star team for his exemplary work. Robinette stated, “Alex Czajkowski was elected our captain. I'm hoping his experience on the CGU Select Side will prove beneficial to some of the young guys we have on the team. Justin McCarthy, Dylan Maris, and James Tyler will all be critical in the system running smoothly.”
Celebrating it’s 40th anniversary as a club, Old Gaelic made its last hurrah in DIII a memorable one. Defeating South Jersey to win the MAC Championships, Old Gaelic advanced in the national playoffs to the semifinal round, losing to the Tri-City Barbarians. The experience of playing on the national level was invaluable to the club and has helped prepartions for promotion to DII this season.
“Retirement, injuries, and transfers caused us to lose five players, including three starters from our spring pack," said president Frank Lentz. "Nationally-ranked high school programs in the area, including West Shore United, Cumberland Valley, and Carlisle, coupled with strong talent from Shippensburg University will allow us to reload with what we hope will be a very competitive team... We are looking forward to the challenge of joining DII in the MAC and rekindling rivalries with the likes of Lancaster, Philly-Whitemarsh, Severn River and Wilmington.”
Finishing last season as the third seed in the North and losing to Richmond in the MAC Quarterfinals was a learning experience for Doylestown. Club president Doug Ortiz said, “Last season, we were very competitive with our first 15, but did not have much depth. This would always give us a problem in the last 15 minutes of the match. Thus, we learned it was imperative that we continue to try and grow the club, increase our numbers, and build quality depth for those final crucial minutes that the end of competitive matches.”
For the 2015-2016 season, the veteran experience of the club took a major hit with the loss of Kevin Reilly, Denny Reilly, Brian Beauregard, Kiel Eckhoff, Tim Acker and Mike Weir. The Dragons will lean on the playmaking ability of Kevin Hockings, Aaron Green, Max Campo, and especially Brendan McCandless, who is making the transition from scrumhalf to flyhalf. Newcomers, Blaize and Rome Boell and Jay White, are expected to make an immediate impact as starters.
“We had some very knowledgeable and impact veteran starters leave the club after last season,” Lentz added. “With that being the case, we have been equally successful in attracting young, experienced rugby players to fill the roles. Our team's average age has dropped drastically, and this season our team will take a new form. How will that look? Well, that is what we are looking to learn ourselves.”
After completing a disappointing 2-5-1 last season, the Washington Irish is expecting a competitive league. “We expect to have our work cut out for us,” captain James Bragan said. “You can't sleep on any one team. We're hoping to play some great rugby and continue to grow the sport around the region.”
Irish will have most of its starters return this year with a lot of new players pushing for spots on the 23. Coaches expect Mark Baur, Joe Edwards, and Ian Pope to contribute in the forward pack and in the backs, Taylor Teaford, Toby Ulm, Luke Hammock, and Matt Murray hope to keep the club on the front foot. New Skipper Julius "Toga" Fanueli should bring a fresh perspective to the club.
“Our main takeaway from last season is that when we commit to our pattern, we can run with the best of them,” Bragan stated. “There's a lot of rising talent in the league this year, and we know we'll have our work cut out for us with the new conference structure. Overall, we're very excited for the new season and the opportunity to compete.”
Even though Severn River were a young team having lost a couple of guys in key positions, the club endured a difficult season and still made the MAC Playoffs. Head coach William Delsing hopes for a quick turnaround with the offseason moves he has made.
“Two new coaches I brought in have already had a big impact with new players,” Delsing said. “We have big experienced coaching staff. Three international coaches and one US coach.”
Severn River retained most of their squad from last season. Joining them will be eight new players, most having prior rugby experience. Delsing said, “We have two international players joining us and a local new player that is super fast.” The new recruits will get their first taste of River rugby at Wilmington on September 12th.
The 2014-2015 season for Washington was a year the club would like to forget, going winless against the DII South. The main things head coach Dumont Walker learned over the course of the season were the importance of depth and tapping into the talent pool of the D.C. area.
“Last year was a transitional year as we lost several players from our playoff team, and a lot of guys had to step up and find themselves in new positions,” Walker stated. “A lot of the new guys also gained a new understanding for the physicality and the fitness required to play at this level, and we are expecting them to step that up this season.”
Eightman Eric Grauvilarell has stepped into a leadership role for the club, and John Murray is projected to be key contributor in the backline. In the forwards, Mike Dickel and Nathan Young take command of the pack and Craig Hammersburg is a field general from his fullback position.
With 12-15 players returning, buffered with about eight new players, the fight for positions will be heated on this season’s club. “The biggest difference for us this season is we have depth and we have battles for several key positions on the field,” Walker said. “We have some great guys ready to make the move into the spotlight. I expect our backline to come back into the explosive form we have seen in the past that made us a dangerous team.”
Media concluded last season in the middle of the pack and suffered a brutal loss against Rocky Gorge in the first round of the MAC Playoffs. Using clubs like Wilmington and Gorge as an example, team president Brian Hay added an emphasis on fitness and organization this offseason.
“With three new coaches looking to make their stamp on the team, we’ve found our practices more productive and drawn more players eager to play for a team looking to win,” Hay said. “I expect a step forward this season in reaching the top of DII.”
Media is expecting big seasons from Jim O'Brien, Luch Perotti, and captain Ryan McHugh as leaders on and off the field. New players, Mark Berto and Rich Fini, will help make the backline be even faster and more dynamic this year, and forwards Dave Demming and Colin McTamany should be a force in the pack. New head coach Ken Smith takes the helm as Media’s first match is at the Richmond Lions on September 19th.
Going 4-8 last season and missing the playoffs tested the Lancaster Roses’ depth and revealed a thin and inexperienced bench. The Roses showed signs of improvement, but to be competitive against higher quality teams, things needed to change. Kevin Laporte, former Roses’ scrumhalf/flyhalf and longtime captain, has stepped into the head coaching role and Brian Hynes, former coach at Millersville University, will instruct the forwards.
The new season brings new hopes for Lancaster. “Our nicks and dings are healed, the boys have more cohesive time under their belts from playing together, and are looking forward to another competitive MAC season,” former head coach Eric Hellman said. “The new combined North South matrix will provide for an interesting season. We are still a little thin in depth. We have several new faces that have come out over the summer, but most are out-right rookies, and are several years away from being true contributors. We have not lost any players, but were hoping for a few new faces that would help with an immediate impact.”
Improvement is the central theme for the upcoming season for Brandywine. Head coach Joe Cassidy’s will look to improve on the club’s 2-8-1 record from last year. Captain Sean Lonsinger and vice captain Nick McBride will lead a group of about 20 returning players in addition to five new prospects. Ryan Somers, Joe Bentivoglio, Matt Carpenter and Bryan Confer will look to make an impact this fall for the squad. “We are a young club,” Cassidy said. “But we still think we can compete with the best of MAC DII... [We expect] continued improvement, hopefully manifested as a few more win