Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 in Review: JCU Secures Playoff Spot

This past season, the men's rugby team at John Carroll University had a successful season. After securing five wins and giving up a pair of losses during the regular season, the team made an appearance at the Midwest Championships, participating in the Challenge Cup.

"Overall, the season was very successful," said Justin Puccetti, the backs captain for JCU. "Our mindset was that it was our time. We had been playing together for the last three years, so we truly believed that this was our season to make something happen."

That's exactly what JCU did. The team competed in the Central region of the National Small College Rugby Organization. The schedule included a number of in-state competitors, including Akron, Baldwin-Wallace, Case Western, Cleveland State and the Cleveland Rovers. When JCU hosted Akron, the team was able to secure a 12-point victory. For JCU this win, and the others like it, came from a renewed focus on defense, victory by restriction.

"We really worked on our defensive structure this year, and getting up quick on the other teams," Puccetti said. "By depriving them of space, we were able to shut down some solid attacking teams."

Youth won the day for JCU throughout the season. When players went down with injuries, as they often do during the course of the season, the young players stepped in and filled the cleats of the fallen teammates while improving on individual skills. As JCU made its way through the playoffs scene, the banged up bodies began to pile up. These young players complemented the sturdy core developed by JCU over the past few years. Of the nearly 30 players on the roster, only about one-third of the men were new to the team.

"We are definitely proud of how well our newer guys picked up the game," Puccetti said. "And we are confident that they will be able to pick up the torch after our seniors graduate. We had to rely on our depth to fill in for four or five starters, and those players were able to contribute. Depth like that is a rare thing in NSCRO rugby, and credit goes to our coaching staff for developing that talent."

The season wasn't all smooth sailing for JCU, though. A few losses and forfeited matches made maintaining flow and continuity difficult at times. These interruptions did little to divert JCU from the team's desired results. According to Puccetti, his team tried to keep its focus on the positive points of the season and on the goals ahead. The players worked harder following the losses and leaned on leaders to keep everyone mentally engaged and turned on when the competition bailed. This continual concentration allowed the JCU players to capitalize on every opportunity to improve that presented itself.

The combination of leadership and preparation made the success JCU saw possible. The exemplary efforts of a few players stood out especially.

"Some of our best efforts, both from a leadership perspective and a scoring perspective, came from the Brads," Puccetti said. "Brad Hopkins, our outside center, and Brad Beattie, our flanker, both put up some monster numbers and were positive presences on the field. Garrett Lee also had a notable year, and his contributions on and off the field are worth mentioning."

Now, with the season over and the winter coming, Puccetti and his teammates turn attention towards preparation. The idea is to go into nect year's competitive season with the skills and conditioning needed to keep execution on the field at a high level. That is may prove to be difficult since a number of the JCU players will be graduating at the end of the year. With the structures in place with the team right now, that goal seems more than attainable for JCU.

"We are looking to capitalize on this success to recruit some new talent, and hopefully return to Elkhart next year," Puccetti said. "We have confidence in our younger players and our coaching staff. We have the structure in place for success, with dedicated coaches and strong support from the school. There is tremendous rugby talent in Cleveland, and in the United States. We would like to see some more of those kids look to JCU, and our rugby team, in the future."

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