By Collin Bolebruch
In front of one of the Field House’s biggest crowds all fall, Plattsburgh State Cardinals men’s rugby showed out and proved why it deserves the support it’s been getting.
The Cardinals dominated the Ithaca College Bombers to win the 15s state championship 35-5 Saturday, Nov. 4. The victory advances the Cards to play in the regional semifinals in Boston against Nichols College Saturday, Nov. 11. Plattsburgh coasted through the Upstate New York Men’s Collegiate Rugby Conference, finishing in-state play 8-0.
Plattsburgh held Ithaca scoreless for the majority of the game. Up 30-0 late, the Bombers scored its only try of the day — a souvenir to take home. Later, well after the game was already decided, a scuffle broke out. Chest bumping ensued and verbal taunts were lobbed. How can two teams that already know the outcome of the game still be so passionate about beating each other?
Cardinal ruggers, both men and women, share a uniquely tight bond for a sports team. They have to be close — they’re the only things holding themselves together. Rugby is not an NCAA-affiliated sport at SUNY Plattsburgh. Rugby is less like soccer or hockey and more like marksmanship or fishing in that they don’t have NCAA support and less school support than they’d like.
On the technical level, the team reports its own scores and needs to collaborate with referees more in order to ensure a fair, smooth game. On the physical level, President Noah Lederman and captains David Ehrensbeck and Boyd Dyer lead their teammates into war.
Ruggers, with minimal padding, are punched, thrown, slammed, stomped and every other synonym for clobbered. The Cardinals have tripped, wrestled and roughhoused its way to the top of its league.
“We play as a team. Playing as a team definitely opens up a lot,” rugger Alejandro Sosa said. “Our pack carries us. They make the backs look good. They do the dirty work.”
The Cardinals have only posted impressive wins this season. Their narrowest win this season was 33-12 against St. Lawrence. Their largest was 97-5 over Potsdam.
Lederman credits Head Coach Sean Morgan for the team’s success. Morgan has been associated with Plattsburgh rugby since its inception in the late 1970s, playing during his college days and serving multiple stints as coach. This is Morgan’s last season coaching 15s, and after coaching sevens in the spring, will hang up the whistle for good.
“In the end, it’s all because of him, to me,” rugger Casey Hollaran said.
Morgan wouldn’t take credit — he’s happy seeing his players reap the rewards.
The reward is support. The crowd at the state championship, including the women’s rugby team, exceeded multiple NCAA events in size, being one of the most attended this semester. Mike Howard, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation, watched the game. Rugby culture at Plattsburgh has grown year in and out, emphasized by the annual TnT charity tournament in the spring.
“I’ve been here a while,” Morgan said. “There’s a lot more people coming out and they’re seeing the game a lot more on TV. People understand the game more. Twenty years ago, people would come up, ‘What the hell are these guys doing?’”
Lederman’s proud of what the team has helped build during his time with the team.
“We’re doing this for the future,” Lederman said. “You might see the crowds like this now, but we’re doing this to build something here.