ESU’s club team competes for the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference or MARC for short in Division Two along with Lehigh, Slippery Rock, Drexel, Villanova, Moravian, York, Scranton, and Bloomsburg.
Currently, ESU is in the Sevens squad part of their season, and in the top three in the conference currently behind Bloomsburg and Drexel.
Juniors Collin Whiteside, Matt Firuta, and Zach Smith helped shed some light on this club team.
Firuta got into rugby for the first time here at ESU, which is common for the club’s members. He got involved his second semester freshman year, “needing something to do,” he said with a laugh. He grew up in Dublin, PA. and plays sweeper and fullback, which is akin to free safety on defense in American football.
Whiteside started around the same time as Firuta and missed the competitive nature of high school sports at Penn Manor High School, in Lancaster, PA., where he played baseball and football. He plays inside center and also kicks their two-point conversions which are like field goals.
The catch with rugby’s two-point conversion, Whiteside said, is that wherever the “try” (a five-point score) is converted from, that’s where the kick has to be attempted from. This is a departure from American football where the kicks are done from either the left, right or center hash marks on the field.
Smith is from Orange County, N.Y. where he grew up playing soccer, but joined the rugby team at ESU right away his freshman year. He plays the scrum-half and flies half positions for the club.
Both positions are the tactical leaders of the rugby team, responsible for making decisions on the offensive approach while on the pitch.
Their squad has 30 members total, with 20 players who show up consistently across the two seasons, Fifteens during the fall and Sevens during the spring. Sevens consist of three pack players or forwards, and seven skill players.
The club’s squads are coached by Brian Shippers, who brings over thirty years experience to the club.
The team captains, Firuta and Smith, have a lot of respect for their coach and his dedication to the team.
“He brings a lot of knowledge and experience to our club. When he was in college, he helped start a club team, so it’s helpful having that person who has been there and done that,” Firuta said.
Smith chimed in, “He’s volunteering to come out and help us, he’s not getting paid through the college or anything like that. Like he’s taking time out of his day and schedule to come out and coach.”
This coaching, along with a renewed focus, has been the theme of this Sevens season. During the Fifteens season in the fall, the team had plenty of talent but failed to meet expectations as they only won one match, according to Smith.
After the disappointing finish, the team had a meeting in the house where Whiteside, Smith, and Firuta live and they realized that the success needed to start on the practice field.
“It’s the difference between two-hour lackadaisical practices and two hour committed practices,” Smith said.
Those focused practices have translated to positive results on the pitch as the Sevens won three games, going 4-1 in total due to an opponent’s forfeit in a tournament last Saturday, April 6, and lost only to the eventual champions of the tournament, Bloomsburg.
So far, they only have lost three matches this season. Their last game was Saturday, April 13, as ESU took on Scranton and lost 24-17.
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