Greenwich High rugby tackles the best competition

Greenwich High School’s Yoh Nakayama races down the pitch during a game last season against Fairfield Prep.   — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School’s Yoh Nakayama races down the pitch during a game last season against Fairfield Prep. — John Ferris Robben photo

While the Greenwich High School rugby team doesn’t have that star power that last year’s team possessed, don’t think that Big Red won’t be its usual dominating self this season.

Playing with more of a team aspect, the Cardinals have been spreading out the ball more this season while still coming up with the same results.

“We lost our star power, and when that happens you kind of wonder how the team is going to react, but this team is reacting as a team,” said Greenwich High School head coach Joe Kelly, entering his fourth year at the helm.

“They are playing team ball. We played our first game and had 12 tries. In those 12 tries, we had 10 different scorers. We are playing so well as a team and the experience level we have out here is more than any year that I have been here.”

Last year was quite the ride for Greenwich High School, as the Cardinals were perfect in Connecticut en route to their sixth consecutive state championship. They crushed Fairfield High 40-7, Simsbury 68-9, Cheshire 63-3, and Fairfield Prep 46-14. In addition to the teams from the Nutmeg State, they defeated a touring team from Ireland and claimed gold in the Regional Challenge Cup Tournament in Devens, Mass., by beating MYRO 10-5.

Big Red also traveled to Indiana for competition in the High School National Championship Invitational. Competing in the Tier II Division, Greenwich beat LaSalette 53-14 and Brownsburg 21-7 before falling to Brother Rice in the championship match, 25-17.

The only other teams Big Red lost to last year were Gonzaga early in the season and against bitter rival Xavier High School, 33-19.

Overall, last year’s team went 14-3. However, with the season finale, Big Red lost two huge standouts to graduation, as Alex McMurray and Joe Kelly Jr., a duo that combined for over 75% of the team’s scoring, were lost to graduation.

“We are a small team this year, but we are working hard and we are looking good out there,” GHS senior captain Mateo Gowland. “It’s a different atmosphere this year because we have to make sure we back up each other and not making sure we get the ball to that one guy. We are going to try and use everybody on the field and I feel that we are much more united. We don’t have one or two scorers on this team. We have 10 scorers this year, and it feels great.”

Before Tuesday’s game, Greenwich dominated the competition and was 2-0. Greenwich breezed past a physical St. Thomas of Texas team 74-22 to start the season and took care of the No. 9-ranked Unionville, Pa., team 39-0. The Cardinals combined for 26 tries in those two games, and 21 different athletes netted at least one.

This year Greenwich will be led by its scrum half and fly half combination, as senior captains Gowland and Yoh Nakayama have been passing the ball to each other since their freshman season at the high school and an additional four years before life at GHS.

“It feels great to lead this team,” said Gowland, who will play the scrum half slot. “I got to know a lot of the guys already because I was captain last year. You have to make sure that the team gets along with each other. It was a great experience last year and I have been looking forward to this since the start of this school year.”

“It’s such an honor to be one of the captains this year,” Nakayama said. “This club has such a good tradition and we have won States all the time. It’s a great accomplishment and it feels great.”

Also leading the forwards this season will be senior Gardy Lebon.

“It feels great to be a leader and I am so proud of this team,” Lebon said. “I think we are going to go really far this year. We have a lot of skill and experience here. We need to play more as a team, since we don’t have the studs that we had last year. We really need to get some chemistry down, and I think it’s coming along.”

“Mateo is a returning captain and he’s such a terrific player,” Kelly said. “He controls the tempo of the game and has done that since he’s started with the team as a freshman. Yoh has also been a starter since his freshman year and took over as starter when our fly half got injured four years ago and has kept that spot since. Gardy is a standup guy and is going to the Naval Academy in the fall. He’s a great leader, and the kids love to follow him. He’s a proud leader that controls things for us.”

The three junior props for GHS will be Thomas Williams, Domenic Colasacco and Chris Hann. Sophomore Erik Menchaca has also been seeing some time at the prop position. Senior Ben Jones is the team’s hooker. In the second row is sophomore Parker Kelly, and senior Joaquin Moraiz has been transformed from a back row player to a second row player.

“We moved Joaquin to the second row because we want him on the pitch as much as possible,” Kelly said. “His skill levels and abilities are just better than they have been. He’s having a great year and is maturing as a player. He’s agreed to be our utility player, so wherever we need somebody we make sure he’s on the pitch.”

In addition to Moraiz, Lebon is the team’s flanker and will lead the forwards. Joining Lebon at flanker will be senior Javier Rovira. Junior Jack Wiegold is going to be playing No. 8.

At inside center will be junior Michael McTiernan, who has been involved with youth programs for several seasons now. Senior Federico Mato has been playing for nearly seven years. Other players like Jones, Moraiz, Wiegold, and Rovira have all played at least five years when you combine youth programs and at the high school level.

“We have more experience on the varsity level than we have ever had before,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a big team. However, the skill level and the speed that we play the game just puts the other team on their heels once we settle in our game.”

Throughout the early part of the season, Big Red will be without Wiegold, as the senior is leaving the GHS rugby team in a few short days for the United States High School All-American Team that will be touring Portugal and France and play up to four international matches.

Despite the loss, Wiegold should be back in plenty of time to battle Xavier and compete at Nationals.

“We have to communicate a lot more, since we don’t have those one or two people to rely on,” Nakayama said. “We play together this year and have different players score every game, so that’s going to be huge for us. It’s important for us to keep the momentum and not give that up.”

Kelly said that the teamwork on the squad is the biggest strength for GHS, and the fact that Big Red has a high level of experience and skill.

“We have a lot of unselfish players that don’t worry about individual performances, and that is huge,” Kelly said. “I still think we have a lot to improve on. We need to bring our fitness level up and want to develop the younger guys so next year we will have an equally strong team.”

Despite the loss of the team’s high scorers from last year, Kelly still has his usual high hopes for this year’s team.
“We are trying to find out how good we are,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it’s not the All-Stars that make you good. It’s the players playing as a team. This year we are really playing well as a team, and hopefully that will make us competitive in Nationals. We want to retain the state championship and also focus on Nationals in the middle of May. We want to qualify for the Elite Eight at Nationals and play well.”

In addition to winning States and dominating Nationals, Big Red would like to exact some revenge on rival Xavier High School. This time around, the battle will take place at Cardinal Stadium on May 3, and Kelly is hoping to get the bleachers packed with GHS fans.

With all the emotion of coaching his son during his senior season last year, the big question was if the GHS head coach will still be up for coaching this season. However, rest assured that Kelly doesn’t plan on leaving the Cardinals anytime soon.

“This is my fourth season,” Kelly said. “I started when coach Lapham was leaving a very well-structured program and I felt I could contribute to the program because it was a position I really would like to do and because my son was in the program. Although my son graduated last year, I am having just as much fun and satisfaction with him not here as I did with him here. My motivations are still in line, and I really enjoy working with these kids.”

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress