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Xavier Takes Rugby NY Championship

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Xavier Takes Rugby NY Championship

Xavier during HS Nationals, won two straight in Elkhart and two straight to win Rugby NY. Alex Goff photo.

Xavier HS defeated Corning and Pelham to win the Rugby New York Tier 1 state championship over the weekend.

Pelham defeated McQuaid Jesuit in Saturday's semifinal by the score of 31-10. McQuaid scored early off a blocked kick but Pelham responded with three tries—fullback Leo Venables scored on a kick counter, then the forwards powered down the field, and finally the backs worked it wide.

Pelham opened the second half with a superb break from Christian King before an offload to Mike Rooney. Another long break, this time from Connor McCormack, made it 31-5. McQuaid's forwards powered over for a late one.

Meanwhile, Xavier looked impressive in beating Corning 56-5. 

"We have had two weeks off since Nationals and the boys were well rested," said Xavier Head Coach Greg Norris, whose Knights took 5th at the national tournament. "With players coming off of Nationals with two positive wins, I think they were motivated to finish well this year. This week during practice, the lads just seemed to click and so we were very confident going into the weekend.  We were fortunate to have a few players return from injury this weekend who also boosted the morale."

The big plan for Xavier going into the final was to keep their penalty count down. Penalties and discipline had hurt them this year.

"We managed to keep it down to only six, which was a huge win for us," said Norris. "We also wanted to dominate possession in the wet weather. This we did and probably had about 80% of the possession."

Xavier was able to use the wide pitch to find space in the Pelham defense, and with aggressive clearouts and speedy passes by scrumhalf Sean Kull they were able to get quick ball to their strike runners.

"We seemed to be always on the front foot and caught Pelham offside on a number of occasions," said Norris. "This allowed us to pump the ball into the corners where our forwards dominated with two strong maul tries."

Pelham Head Coach Matt Persanis agreed that repeated offside calls hurt his team, and the resulting yellow card certainly didn't help. 

"They scored while our player was in the bin and we didn't recover," said Persanis, who was missing a few players who might have made it a bit closer. "Xavier is very solid. Well-coached, good athletes, good players, deep." 

Sophomore flyhalf Ian Lafferty was very good on the weekend, controlling the attack smartly, playing tough defense, and hitting five out of seven conversions.

"He is a composed and confident young player who will certainly go on to do good things," said Norris. "Pelham were physical and I am sure they believed that this was their year to cause an upset. And even though they scored first after a fumble on their line, I was secretly confident that our men would show composure and play a clinical game.  Kudos to them for not giving up and staying in the fight till the end. They are well-coached and have some talented players."

Norris had special praise for Venables, whose kicking for space challenged Xavier; the battle between Venables and Xavier fullback Alex Zagoreos was something to see as both were very good at what they do. Overall, however, Xavier's consistent defense wore Pelham out a bit.

Leading the way for Xavier was the Xavier back row with USA U18 players Mehdi Mera and Emir Yukel who were big ground-gainers—Mera used his power and Yukel used his elusiveness.


"We played some of our best rugby Sunday and perhaps made up for those crazy against-the-norm losses," said Norris. "One thing being a diehard Springbok fan has taught me is that sometimes a loss can be the best lesson. But winning when it truly counts is the reward for the lessons and hard work. Avenging the losses against Greenwich and Pelham were massive for these young men. They needed that for their self confidence, for their belief in themselves as a team, and in the knowledge that success sometimes only comes with failure."  

Overall the season was an interesting one for Xavier. They toured Vancouver Island in British Columbia early, beating Shawnigan Lake but losing to St. George's. 

"It's hard for teenagers to understand that St Georges played us after four days of prep and we were on our third game in five days," said Norris. "But that really seemed to have affected them and we came back lacking confidence, and hobbling, in truth. But the losses to Pelham and the April 20 loss to Greenwich really hurt our confidence even further. But NYC boys are hard to go toe-to-toe with and they decided that they needed to redesign. And so the team set about redesigning their system of play, changing from perhaps a traditional 1331 system to something a little more forward dominant. with a touch of flare on the outside. A system which seemed, if anything, to change their mindset and give them reawakened confidence. We brought up some strong sophomores and allowed them to acclimate against some tough opposition, Gonzaga and St Ignatius, which was certainly a baptism of fire.  But they proved themselves at Nationals and I am excited to see where they go from here."

Two tries from Brady Herrema helped lead McQuaid Jesuit to the third-place win over Corning.

Meanwhile, Fordham Prep beat St. Anthony's to take the Tier 2 final.

Full list of state and major regional Boys HS championships here>>