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Clemson kicks off its season Friday against Georgia in Athens, Ga. The Tigers, which had a banner 2013/2014 season, graduated just one player and look to build on their success. Last year, Clemson won its first Atlantic Coast title, going 6-0 in conference play. They were then narrowly nudged out of the American Collegiate Rugby Championship playoffs by eventual runners-up Penn State. In the spring, the Tigers were bounced in the first round of the Varsity Cup by Dartmouth, but finished the season ranked No. 24 in the country.
The Tiger coaching staff has undergone slight changes but returns an experienced crew in head coach Justin Hickey and Assistant Coach Wright Henry, who, together, enter their fifth ACRL season and have compiled a dominant 22-4 record in conference play over the last 4 seasons. Nick Whitrow enters his 2nd season as Assistant Coach for the Tigers, and will help oversee a young, but talented backline. Martin Sarkees joined the backroom in early 2014 and returns this fall for his 1st ACRL 15s competition. Sarkees brings a wealth of coaching experience to the staff and will focus his attention, along with Henry, on the strong and experienced Tiger forward pack.
The team returns a number of key players for the 2014-15 season, including Senior Max Simons, the two-time team MVP. Simons, a tight head prop, will be looked to as an emotional leader, along with fourth-year lock and 2013-14 Most Valuable Forward Jimmy Rippert. The team will look for a breakout year from third-year player Dylan Goulding, who will slot into the centers along with Senior 2014 USA Rugby Academic Honor Roll Recipient and four-year starter Rion Tapp. The team will look to senior flanker Ryan Sullivan and junior flanker James Rogers to have another outstanding year between them. 6’5”, 240 lb sophomore flanker/lock Dylan Bargar, who spent the entire 2013-14 year recovering from shoulder surgery, will be eager to contribute along with returning sophomore starter Stuart Harr (lock) who’s looking toward another solid year. Last year’s points leader, fullback Aaron Keers and fellow sophomore scrumhalf Jennings Stroud return with a year of starting experience under their belt adding to the young, but dynamic backline.
The 2014 recruiting class follows a string of impressive classes that has included three-straight ACRL Freshman of the Year recipients in three-year starting hooker Dan Collins, two-year starting scrumhalf Ryan Gilroy and Honorable Mention All American No. 8 Jason Damm.
Gonzaga College High School graduate and former teammate of prep teammate of Gilroy, Collins and his brother Jimmy, Tommy Rippert (hooker) leads this year’s freshmen class. The 5’11”, 220-pound Rippert played an integral role in winning the 2014 High School National Invitational Tournament with Gonzaga. Rippert also excels in the classroom and received two academic scholarships from Clemson.
At 6’3”, 232-pounds, Thomas Murtagh (prop/lock) from East Chester, NY brings additional size and athleticism to the forwards. From within the state of South Carolina, 6’3”, 210-pound Jordan Dowell (flanker), 5’10”, 220-pound Joel Jaldin (hooker) and Noah Butler (scrumhalf) were all members of the state’s All-Star program and are eager to embark on their Clemson rugby careers.
The class also contains some impressive transfer students including flyhalf Nick Richards from Chapin, SC who had a brief spell at Life University and spent a few months playing in Canterbury, New Zealand. Cliff Hanich, a 6’3” 250-pound prop from Asheville, NC also joins the Tigers from Middlebury College, adding to the depth at the position along with 6’, 240-pound Nick Bilgri of Naperville, IL, who transferred from Lindenwood University.
This year’s Clemson Rugby Foundation Scholarship recipient is 5’7”, 190-pound hooker, Nick Meyer from Long Beach, Calif., a product of the Belmont Shore age-grade program and a member of the Southern California Griffin All-Star program from 2012-14, as well as the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy last year. Meyer joins Bargar, junior center John Jamison, and senior All-ACRL wing Nick Johnson as the four student-athletes receiving the CRF’s annual award, which is also renewable for four years. In all, the exciting 2014 recruiting class includes 12 student-athletes from seven different states.
Upon completion of the fall ACRL 15s campaign and the winter holiday, the Tigers will turn their attention once again to the nation's premier post-season competition, the Varsity Cup Championship for the spring of 2015. Throughout the spring, Clemson will play a 15s schedule which includes matches against South Carolina, Navy, Davenport and Life, as well as a tour in the Bahamas over spring break, in preparation for the first round of the Varsity Cup on April 4.