By Nicholas Cousins
SUNY Plattsburgh’s men’s rugby team competed last weekend in the SUNY Potsdam 7’s Tournament. With the season underway, the team is looking to show its level of urgency and intensity and prove that last year’s run to nationals was not a fluke.
The team is hungrier than ever and aware of what its, as a collective, is capable of achieving. The team follows a motto that says: “I bleed for you, you bleed for me.”
Besides the love for the game, the willingness to fight hard for each other is what sparks the players’ passion and pushes their goals of success. Although the season has just begun, there are many goals that players are looking to meet for the team in order to come out on top.
In their first matchup, Plattsburgh faced Clarkson, dominating and holding it to zero points. The final score was 24-0 and this early win qualified the team for nationals again, back-to-back. In its second matchup, Plattsburgh went up against Oswego, taking a tough loss in a close game, 7-14.
Plattsburgh then played Harvard, handling them easily, with the final score of 29-5. Finally, Plattsburgh had to battle against St. Lawrence with an opportunity to play in the championship for the tournament. The team took a disheartening loss in another close game with a score of 7-14.
Having impressive wins mixed in with tough losses is always conflicting, but the team remained highly optimistic after what they felt could’ve been a better tournament.
“The tournament was a wake-up call that the team needed. We did lose to Oswego, one of two teams over the course of last year that has given us trouble. On top of that, we did lose to St. Lawrence to play for the championship game for the tournament. But other than that, it was a good day to get the cleats out and hit the ground running,” wing Benny Guapo said.
Guapo added that the team started well last year, but had the same feelings they do now: that they were not at 100%. With some key departures from last year, Guapo says the team still feels great knowing that things will continue to get better with the new core that has been assembled.
“In our win against Clarkson, we established why we deserve to go back-to-back. However, I can speak for the entire team and even our coach has been stressing that our stamina is not where it needs to be,” Guapo said.
“One main priority for us has been running and conditioning as a team, but getting the amount of practice together and continuing to build a rhythm and strengthening our relationships with each other on the field will have us set and ready to go.”
Forward Munashe Chikukwa had some anxiety heading into the tournament, but said everything started to slow down as the games went on. Chikukwa scored three tries overall.
“The team has a lot of work to do and our mistakes showed in our two losses. A lot of our silly mistakes on offense and defense drained our momentum and overall we are working on hammering those with more practice. Everyone is getting more and more serious, which is great to see,” Chikukwa said.
Chikukwa added that some personal goals for him are to deepen his skill set by learning new positions and tricks on the field that will open his game. The strive to be greater is not something that can be taught.
Captain Mike Barbagallo is a leader on the team, and he didn’t mince words explaining the teams status, performance and what’s to come.
“Overall a good day for PSU Rugby. We qualified, that’s what matters. The team played well, but just needed to scrape the rest of the rust off, which I know we will do quickly. Stamina and communication are two things we will work on in retrospect of last Sunday,” Barbagallo said.
As a captain, part of the job is to emulate the coach while on the field— not an easy task. Other parts consist of keeping teammates not only motivated but determined as well, keeping a good attitude and playing hard. Barbagallo understands the difference between a leader and a great leader, and this drives him to critique his own performances because he knows how much relies on him.
“I tend to be insensitive in some circumstances. As captain, I am really trying my best to focus on being as positive as possible and being a role model for my boys to come and talk to for advice either on or off the pitch. And obviously win nationals,” Barbagallo said. “I think we are all excited to see the rest of these cobwebs come off this Saturday and show everyone what PSU Rugby can do because we are an extremely talented team. I am also excited for all of the newer guys to get some experience playing this amazing game.”
Coming off a leg injury, Barbagallo hopes to make his return to the pitch as soon as this week. The team will not stop bleeding for one another as they prepare for another tournament this week at Clarkson. With nationals approaching at the end of April in Washington, D.C., every match counts.