An enduring legacy of brotherhood

Loyola Rugby Club celebrates 40th season

By Brenna O’Connor, ’15  |  Photos courtesy of Kenny Ames, '83, Jed Davis, "83, and Loyola Archives

Former and current players alike all mention the word “brotherhood.”

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The Founding Fathers of Loyola’s Rugby Club (circa 1978)

They describe the bonds that form on and off the pitch as enduring a lifetime. This might explain why Loyola’s men’s rugby club, founded in 1976, is the school’s oldest recreational sports club.

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The 2016-17 team huddles before a match.

“There’s a collective respect for the game unlike any other sport and a camaraderie shared among the players in the club that translates to the field. You play for your teammates,” said Chris McNamara, ’15, who was president of the club during his senior year.

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Current team captains and seniors Luke Preston (left) and Jimmy Cahill bear down for a combined tackle on a Catholic University player.

“What sets rugby apart from the other club sports is our culture. There is a culture of commitment and passion, an alliance to the brothers beside you on the field,” he said.

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In the early days of Loyola rugby (circa 1979), players had to rely on their leaping ability during a line-out, which resumes play after the ball goes out of bounds. The game evolved to permit players to be lifted during line-outs, pictured below.

Current and former players, coaches, and alumni attribute the legacy and past triumphs of the organization to the players’ dedication and commitment to their team and to the sport itself.

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Loyola wins a line-out vs. Mount Saint Mary’s. Pictured: senior Jimmy Cahill with juniors Will Gooch, Herb Grueninger, and Will Kinzer in support.

Rugby demands vigorous physical stamina and mental strength. Players wear no protective padding and exhibit relentless determination and athletic ability, with each half of the match lasting for 40 minutes with infrequent substitutions. Teams battle to the end of each match.

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Geoff Failla, ’80, and Greg Fudge, ’80, prepare to tackle a Mount Saint Mary’s player.

Unlike other club sports, rugby at Loyola is modeled with a varsity sport mentality.  The club has professional coaching, an established practice and workout schedule, league play within the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO), a national governing body (USA Rugby), and a National Championship tournament.

The organization also boasts one of the most prolific and long-standing alumni networks associated with an organization at Loyola.

Jed Davis, ’83, who serves as chair of the board of the Society of Loyola Old Boys, the team’s alumni association, attributes the club’s strength and community to the bonds of brotherhood and the continuous support for current and former teammates, and for the organization itself.

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Joe Morel, ’84, and Tim Madey, ’84, return to the pitch for an alumni match.

A registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the ongoing support of the club, the Society of Old Boys organizes alumni games and publishes weekly newsletters that include prayer chains, keeping Loyola’s Jesuit values at the heart of its mission.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the team’s founding this year, alumni and current players gathered for a full day of rugby at Lugano Pitch at Ridley Athletic Complex, followed by a gala in McGuire Hall.

“Having 40 years of the team at the anniversary, men wearing that Loyola rugby crest, was as humbling as it was eye-opening,” McNamara said. “The 40th anniversary cemented how promising the future of the club will be.”

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Loyola’s 1987 ruggers celebrate a victory.

With alumni who are dedicated to the success of the team’s members, both on and off the pitch, the club’s future is likely to be just that. Each year, the Society of Loyola Old Boys awards between one and five scholarships to student-athletes committed to playing rugby.

Davis believes these scholarships immediately extend the rugby network that is so firmly established between current players and alumni to new players, which he feels is a strong asset—and further testament to the bonds created through the sport.

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The 1980 team celebrates their 1980 Mount Tourney Championship.

“Rugby was and is something that has an enduring legacy, a genuine love and respect that transcends decades of Loyola players,” he said. “Our alumni network is only getting stronger.”

The 2016-17 team hopes to build upon past successes, complete a winning season, and shape the future of the club.

Currently ranked eighth in the nation (of the 230 teams that comprise the National Small College Rugby Organization, or NSCRO), Loyola rugby aspires to clinch a national title this spring.

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The 1979 team fighting for a loose ball.

Head Coach Matt Cipriano, who has coached Loyola rugby for six years, describes his team as tenacious and respectful. “This season has been the best I’ve had as a coach, and that is a huge testament to the senior leadership. We knew this year was going to be special.”

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Sophomore fly-half Danny Giannascoli prepares to pass the ball with (from left to right) Will Gooch, Kyle Higgins, Brian Ganun, Jack Longest, Jimmy Cahill and Chris Linn in support.

Fellow coach Kenny Ames, ’83, who serves as director of rugby operations as well as a board member for the Society of Loyola Old Boys, said this year’s team is motivated and committed, and the players exhibit strong leadership on and off the field. “This team wants to continue to compete at a higher level.”

A national title would be sweet, indeed. Regardless of what happens this spring, Loyola men’s rugby players will leave the season with much more than they came with.

“It’s the relationships that I’ve been able to forge that make me keep coming back, regardless of the outcome of the season,” Cipriano said.

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