By Liam Sample
The Plattsburgh men’s rugby team has put together a terrific run this season, boasting a 12-3 overall record and ended their regular season by going undefeated in four games at their recent weekend tournament April 24 in Potsdam.
The team, which is a club funded by the recreation fee, is run by longtime Head Coach Sean Morgan. They have created tremendous success this season and are attempting to earn an invite to the Men’s Small College May Madness tournament, which is the national championship for the sport and takes place in New Orleans between May 28 and May 30.
The season is split into two, with both a fall and spring session. They went 5-0 in the fall, which made the players realize their skill.
“We came into this year without any expectations about how far we would go,” senior captain Tyler Callahan said. “ I realized ‘oh wait, we have a chance to do something special with this group of guys.’ This mentality followed us into our spring season, going 12-3 and winning our Potsdam tourney today. To be honest, this is the hardest working group of young men I’ve ever been blessed to lead and play with.”
To earn an invite, the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) reviews Plattsburgh and the other teams across the country. Then, the NCR dictates what teams are most deserving of spots in the May Madness tournament, announcing their selections May 5.
The NCR oversees many levels of rugby from Division I to small colleges. Plattsburgh is considered a small college.
“Plattsburgh rugby is all about heart and consistency. It doesn’t matter who, when, where we play, we come to every single game with the same intensity as the last,” Club President and junior Mike Barbagallo said. “Coach Morgan gives us the tools and we use them. I am very proud of the boys this season, we’ve come a long way.”
With the sport being divided into many conferences, many of these allow automatic qualifications to the tournament. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their conference, the Upstate Small College Rugby Conference, does not allow for an automatic bid. This creates a difficult route for the team in getting an invite to New Orleans.
Plattsburgh has sent in an application to the NCR for a tournament bid, as they attempt to grab one of the many “at large” spots with their stellar season.
Callahan said the team feels they have earned a chance at the tournament, especially after their perfect weekend in Potsdam. The magnitude of winning this tournament is crucial as many feel it has pushed the team over the edge for national eligibility. “This season has been monumental for Plattsburgh rugby. We have exceeded our expectations as a unit and are crossing barriers we have yet to achieve as a program,” junior inside center Kevin Graber said.
Plattsburgh played especially well against local teams. At their recent tournament, they beat Buffalo State, Ithaca, New Paltz and St. Lawrence in the finals. The Cardinals put up a 34-0 shutout in the final game to win the tournament.
Their three losses in the regular season came to strong opponents. One loss came to Oswego, which plays in a Division I league. They were also taken down by Sienna twice, which the NCR ranks as the 10th best school nationally among all small colleges.
“As the season progressed, we ended up beating all of the teams in our surrounding areas,” Luke Ovadias, who is former president of the club and still plays said. “At this point we and our loyal, invested alumni dubbed our team the Kings of the North. This spring semester has been anything, but average for this current team.”
No matter if Plattsburgh will get an invite to the May Madness Tournament, the future is bright. The team recruited 13 new members to the team this year and are trying to add more going into next season.
“It’s surreal to say the least and to watch your team shatter all expectations and rise above all obstacles. It almost doesn’t seem real,” Ovadias said.
The Cardinals will be playing in their annual TNT tournament April 30 behind Memorial Hall, many of their loyal alumni will be playing against the current team.
“We earned every win and feel that we earned the chance to represent the North and show that we are that team to make a miracle,” Callahan said. “You know the ‘Miracle On Ice?’ We’re the miracle on the pitch, a small unknown college rugby club team from the Canadian Border of New York ready to take full advantage of our [potential] shot in the National Tourney.”