Friday, May 20, 2016

Mentor Rugby Readies for Playoff Run

In 1999 Mentor fielded its first boys' high school rugby side. At that time, the operation was headed up by Don Negrelli alone. Now, the team's support system and coaching staff has grown to include Randy Viviani, Jason Forro, Dan O'Neil, Mike Goffus and current Head Coach John Hummel.

"We all have over one hundred years of rugby knowledge between us," Forro said. Forro acts as a Forwards Consultant for the team. "All of our coaches have played competitive rugby on a myriad of levels over the years."

The leadership provided by this group, combined with the hard work of the young men on the field, has led the team to the playoff rounds of their division. Even more impressive is that they go to playoffs as the no. one seed. This was no easy task for Mentor, though the scorelines might say something different. Mentor only conceded two losses in the eight-match season. Those were to Saint Edward and Canton. Despite the losses, Mentor went a strong 3-0 on league play - 70-7 against Shaker Heights, 65-10 against Anthony Wayne and 103-7 against Findlay.

"We had to work very hard on communication early," Forro said. "We have a decent level of athleticism and have learned the discipline required to run or attacks. Our defense can hold the line as well. Both are good signs our team is heading in the right direction."

Mentor's numbers more than back up Forro's sentiment too. In all, Mentor conceded around 80 points while putting up almost five times as many on opponents. This is even more impressive considering Saint Edward shut them out and Canton held them to seven points.

Mentor didn't start out the gate as the powerhouse it is today. It has been a slow process of evolution and discipline that has led tot his point. As the game of rugby has evolved, so has the Mentor style of play; from one-off strikes at the line, to running more complex patterns. This has made Mentor a more diverse - and more dangerous team. Flyhalf Sam Fellows benefited the most from this diverse offense, ending the season with 16 tries, the most in the league.

The defense isn't lacking for Mentor either. While the players aren't perfect off the line, they stepped up and protected the line at crucial times this year to limit the amount of points opponents could score.

"We have a very physical team," Forro said. "We make our share of mistakes, but when we get into a smaller field with our defense pinned down these boys dig in as well as any team we've ever had. As a coach we cant take credit for that. That's all them. They just refuse to give up."

Since its inception, the Mentor program has consistently churned out quality talent. Prior to the merger, the Cleveland Rugby Club subsisted for the most part on talent that came from the program. Evan Johnson, Aaron Zone and Dan Dragolich are just a few of the Mentor products that played out their adult careers in Cleveland. There have even been alumni that have gone on to compete in Division I men's rugby. Perhaps the biggest feather in the cap of the Mentor program is the number of alumni that have gone through the system and achieved success in the collegiate and select side realms of rugby.

"We have a lot of alumni that gone through BGSU and NDC - both Vivianis (Mark and Nick), Cyrus Sharif, Zack Forro and there's more. As coaches, we are most proud of the amount of quality players we've helped get to the next level of rugby and, ultimately, be feeder players to Cleveland Crusaders."

The Mentor team has been around almost 20 years. With that kind of staying power comes a bit of wisdom about how the scene changes from year to year and how to remain viable throughout. The coaching staff at mentor has seen players come and go, seen teams go through boon times and lean ones. Forro and the rest of the men and women at the head of the Mentor program have seen that happen enough to know that exposing young hearts and minds to rugby is the only way to ensure the viability of a high school program.

"The best way to learn rugby is to play rugby," Forro said. "This is why we're trying to bolster team numbers by bringing guys in when they're 15 so they get three or four years to develop as a player. We're [also] expanding our club into the middle schools, and our girls' team is growing. [We want to] start them younger, and we have a player pool built in when they get to the high school."

That is down the line, though. In the immediate future, Mentor has a challenge awaiting in Canton, one of the only teams to tarnish Mentor's record. The two teams will clash again on May 25, 2016 on Mentor's home field. Kick off is at 7:00pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment