On November 4th, the Play Rugby Academy U18 Boys brought back the Cup Championship for the New York Fall 7s league. This victory came from a perfect record of 24-0, following eight tournaments in their regular division and one guest appearance in the New Jersey division, where they also swept the competition.
The current team is made up of 30 student-athletes from across New York City. With such great participation, the Academy was able to field two teams for the entirety of the season – giving every player an advantage in training because of the ability to practice against a full side. Older players took on the roles of mentors to those new to the game, which elevated everyone’s level of play. All of the athletes participated in weekly practices and film sessions held in the Play Rugby office. The team really emphasized fitness this season, which made a huge difference on game day. All players ran over 1000 meters every practice, putting their fitness levels above that of the competition. According to Coach Kevin Braithwaite, “This whole process has been great. They practice twice a week and when it comes time to play, they look like they play together perfectly.”
Throughout their perfect season, the U18 boys saw appearances by 16 different players on the first side. Many of the younger players were called up throughout various tournaments and kept up flawlessly with the veterans. Captain Elijah Billips led the first side in tries, with a total of 16 scored. The leading points scorer, Damian Morley, is a standout player who scored 15 tries and converted 21 kicks totaling 117 points for the team. During their time in the New York division, the Academy Boys scored a total of 626 points while only allowing 74 – a very impressive statistic considering there were only 336 minutes of rugby played by the team this season! The squad will be graduating five players in the spring, with several already being scouted by college rugby coaches this season.
The second team also had their fair share of impressive performances; their best being at the seventh tournament of the season, where they won three of their four matches. This side was led by captain Dilyn McHugh, who shows the dedication and leadership skills that are exemplary of the Academy. This team consisted of 18 players throughout the season, many of whom are new not only to the Academy, but to the sport of rugby. While still very new, the team played against some of the best competition in the league and consistently improved throughout the season. When asked about how he felt about this season, Coach JJ Lupenui said, “I’m ecstatic, it’s amazing to see the young boys evolve and take on leadership roles. This is how you grow the game. I’m so happy to be around the kids and work for an organization like Play Rugby USA.”
Off the field, the coaches observed a lot of growth in the players’ social and emotional development, “from the start of the season until now, I have seen a few boys really step out of their comfort zone. I am seeing younger boys have confidence when working with veteran players, communicating on the field, and coming to coaches with their questions.”, Coach Sarah McManus says. “Some of our players are really talented, but they are still developing their social-emotional skills, so we focus on what we can do to help them off the field rather than just on their rugby skills. It has paid off and allowed the boys to play better together and has given them better self-awareness about their interactions with others.”
Both teams competed in the league that includes Keio/FASNY, Bishop Loughlin, Pelham, Queens RFC, NYRC, Fairfield, and New Rochelle.
Looking forward, the Academy will be putting both U18 Boys and U18 Girls teams into the New York 7s tournament later this month, while many of the players have been selected to the Community Olympic Development Program Select Side for the same tournament. New York 7s is set to take place on Randall’s Island on Saturday, November 24th, beginning at 9am – we hope you can make it down to support both our boys and girls teams!