NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's rugby team enters the 2019-20 season looking to continue its historic recent success.
The Cadets have won three straight conference 15s and 7s titles the last three years, with the latest two coming in the Rugby Northeast Conference. Norwich has qualified for six straight USA Rugby Division II National Tournaments between 15s and 7s the last three years as well.
Norwich is coming off a 9-2 record in the 2018 Fall 15s season with its only two losses coming to Division I Brown and a USA Rugby Division II National Tournament Sweet Sixteen loss to Queens University of Charlotte. The Cadets have compiled a remarkable 33-4 record over the last three seasons in 15s action.
"Programs don't go on runs like that without leadership and some key players in certain positions," said NU head coach Bob Weggler. "Keegan Frick and Tom St. Pierre were a couple of terrific leaders for the team. Even after losing 18 seniors and 10 starters coming into last season, we still were able to continue our success with great leadership and new players stepping up."
Seniors Nate Rolling (Taylorsville, Utah) and Jeffrey Minicucci (Bolton, Conn.) have had a large hand in Norwich's success over their three years with the program. They both return along with junior captain William Rambin (Fairfax, Va.) and Jonah Faneuf (Wake Forest, N.C.) to round out the Cadets' leadership council for 2019-20.
"Rambin is our captain has done a great job managing our leadership council so far this season," Weggler said. "Fanuef, Rolling, Minicucci have all played a lot of rugby for us over the years and will help lead a young team this year. It's a good group of guys but we're young. We've got some talent, athletic ability and some speed that is so crucial in the game of rugby."
Rolling led the Cadets in 15s action last year with 17 tries, while Minicucci led Norwich's kicking game with 97 total points from 41 conversions and five penalty kicks.
Weggler credited a culture shift within the program over the last few years that has been a huge component to the team's success.
"We're sticking to no excuses, take ownership and be accountable across the board," Weggler said, "The team has bought into that. We're working hard on the fundamentals like we had in those three years. We're keeping to the basics of retaining the ball and getting it out wide."
"We had a pretty good freshmen recruiting class last year that is now stepping it up as sophomores and will be called upon to play more," Weggler said. "Filteau and Knowlton have been a little more confident and will play more this season."
Weggler pointed to a strong group of returners in the backs position group that should be able to lead the offense if they can get the ball in their hands.
Faneuf, McKinley Nagel (Lakewood, Ohio), Michael DelPriore (Ringoes, N.J.), Josh Knoll (Braintree, Mass.) are expected to lead the backs this season with all four seeing significant time last season in the starting lineup.
"We could be pretty explosive in the back line, but if you don't get the ball from the forwards, you can't really get them involved as much," Weggler said. "I think if we're able to maintain possession and get the ball to our backs, we should be able to score some points this season."
One newcomer that Weggler expects to see significant time immediately is freshman Leo Clayburgh (Brussels, Belgium).
"Clayburgh has done well and has played a lot of rugby coming in," Weggler said. "He's savvy and is always around the ball as a flanker. I think Rambin, Rolling and Clayburgh should be a good combination to link the forwards up to the backs."
The Rugby Northeast Conference once again saw some movement in the offseason with St. Michael's and Roger Williams leaving, while New England College dropped down from Division I and joined the conference.
"We've had a good run but this year we'll face some strong competition with Bentley, Middlebury and UMass Lowell all having traditionally strong programs in addition to New England College dropping down from Division I. There are only five conference games this year so every single one counts and we'll need to play well out of the gate."
The top four teams will advance to the Rugby Northeast Playoffs, set for Nov. 2 and Nov. 9.
Norwich has played two scrimmages so far this season vs. Colgate and Bishop's University, splitting the two matchups. The Cadets will have one final tune up on Saturday when they travel to Brown University before kicking off the league season on Sept. 14 at Bentley. NU's first home match will be on Saturday, Sept. 21 when it hosts Providence at 2 p.m. as part of Norwich's Bicentennial and Homecoming Weekend.