NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The 2018-19 Norwich University men's rugby team will look to fresh faces to maintain the programs torrid rate of success over the last two seasons.
Last season, the Cadets advanced to their second consecutive USA Rugby Division II final four weekend, falling to VMI 41-36 in double overtime in the semifinal round before defeating North Dakota State 40-24 in the consolation game. The semifinal loss was the only setback all season as the team posted an overall record of 13-1 and won its second-straight conference championship.
Norwich also won its second-straight conference 7s championship in the spring and made its second appearance at the USA Rugby Collegiate 7s National Championships in Colorado, placing seventh.
Norwich lost 18 seniors to graduation last year, including 10 starters, but head coach Bob Weggler has already begun the process of rebuilding the squad.
"The players have been doing everything their coaches have asked of them. We have a lot of new pieces to the puzzle." Weggler said, "Anytime you graduate 18 seniors and 10 starters it's going to be a challenge. We have a fair amount of people who are either new to playing here as an upperclassmen or new to Norwich in general. I'm liking the team chemistry that has built in such a short amount of time in preseason."
The Cadets haven't lost a conference match in two seasons and haven't lost a contest on the Dog River Rugby Pitch since 10/24/15, a 27-19 defeat at the hands of the University of Vermont. Norwich is also an astounding 24-2 overall over the last two seasons.
Norwich has competed in two scrimmages so far in the preseason, a 34-12 win at Colgate University on Saturday, August 26th and a 32-7 loss at Bishop's University on Saturday, September 1st.
"We've played two scrimmages so far and in our first scrimmage against Colgate we had eight sophomores and freshmen start and in our second scrimmage at Bishop we had nine so we are trying to develop depth as well as our starting rotation."
Among the returners is senior flanker/center Austin Manhey (Ballston Lake, N.Y.). He's joined by junior flanker/hooker Nate Rolling (Taylorsville, Utah), among other team leaders.
"Austin (Manhey) is back as our captain this season, he has great leadership that was displayed during our run last year. Senior Korbin Wayton (Southlake, Texas) is back as well as Luke Jordan who's back for his fourth year with us. Along with those seniors we have juniors Jeff Minicucci (Bolton, Conn.) and Nate Rolling in our leadership group as well as sophomore Will Rambin (Fairfax, Va.)."
"We are trying not to move too fast, while also not moving too slow so it's a balance of the two."
"Freshman Travis Bartinsky (Houston, Texas) has been solid at scrumhalf and a pleasant surprise as it isn't easy to come in as a freshman and play that position," Weggler said. "Nolan Filteau (Now, N.H) at tight-head prop has played well and has started both scrimmages for us, as has Travis. Freshman JJ Burruss (Oakland, Tenn.) has done a really good job for us at wing so far this year. Sophomore Josh Knoll (Braintree, Mass.) made the transition from football to rugby so this is his first season in 15s and he's adapted well."
"We have good speed and good athletes, now it's just about learning the structure of the back line, offensively as well as defensively."
Rugby Northeast saw the departure of Bryant University and Stonehill College in the offseason, two teams Norwich didn't face in 2017, but in a more surprising move Southern Connecticut State University departed the conference for New England Wide in 2018. Norwich topped SCSU 35-33 in last season's conference championship game, but Weggler expects other teams in the league to step up to fill the void.
"Middlebury, UMass Lowell, Bentley and I'm sure Providence and Roger Williams will step up. Last year a lot of teams had a younger group and we had an older group so we matched up pretty well. I think it's going to rotate this year where some of those programs might have more experience than we do."
Norwich begins regular season play with a non-conference match against Brown University for the second straight season on Saturday, September 8th at 1:00 p.m.at the Dog River Rugby Pitch.
"Our game against Brown will give us a chance to get better ahead of conference play, and that will be our first real test for our young guys to see how they can play under pressure. Seeing how they will react to the pressure."
The Cadets open conference play the following week, hosting Bentley University at 2:00 p.m. as part of Norwich Homecoming Weekend.