One Golden Opportunity

Matt Eisenberg

Over the past week, numerous alumni have contacted New Blue Rugby’s Jimmy Cappadoro, one of the team’s 20 seniors. They’ve expressed how proud they are to see where the team is going.

It’s not just the undefeated record. It’s actually where the team is playing: home.

New Blue hasn’t had an official home site for its home games. Over the past few years, the team has played its “home” games in East Haven, West Haven, Cheshire and even Hartford. But now, the team, comprised of all Quinnipiac students, will have the opportunity to show the campus what it does.

“This is something every team has been working toward since the beginning,” says Cappadoro, who has been with the team since his sophomore year.

Playing in the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference, New Blue beat Hartford, Babson, WPI, West Connecticut, Central Connecticut State and Springfield College en route to a perfect record and a top seed in the playoffs. Now the team will not only play Western Connecticut State University in the semifinals, but it will host Western Connecticut State Saturday at noon behind the baseball field.

“We’ve been working for this since day one,” says Pat MacLellan, one of New Blue’s three captains. “It’s a dream come true, to tell you the truth: stepping on Quinnipiac Field and getting to play in front of our home fans for once, just representing the university for once as well. We haven’t had a chance to do that.”

New Blue Rugby is independent from the school. It became unaffiliated in 2001 after the university would not recognize club sports. The team stayed together and would try to play its games on campus, but school administration said that security would escort it off campus if it tried to play games on campus.

But if everything goes smoothly, it could pave the way for men’s rugby and other club sports on campus.

“Club sports is a major priority for the students and for the university,” Quinnipiac Director of Athletics and Recreation Jack McDonald said. “We want it to go well so we don’t have anybody saying this is not the right thing to do. Men’s rugby is something that we’d like to see come into Quinnipiac as a club sport, along with many other men’s and women’s club sports. It’s a big test not only for men’s rugby, but for all sports.”

According to McDonald, the university needs to ensure that several different factors are met in order to implement club sports, including safety, class organization, coaching staffs and safe travels.

“We’re getting close. We’re not quite there yet,” McDonald said. “We thought we would give this home game a try and see how everybody handles themselves.”

New Blue doesn’t have a coach. The team’s trainers are Quinnipiac physical therapy students. The players provide all of the team’s funding. They use their dues to pay for referees and the fields. This year, they were able to buy new uniforms for the first time in four years.

“You basically put together 30 kids every year that takes rugby balls and plays a sport,” says Jimmy Whelan, one of last year’s captains who has acted as a coach this season. “This team has come from basically nothing because each year is a brand new year. It’s a new group of kids with nothing, no support. That’s just huge.”

Despite all the difficulties, the team has flourished. It is 6-0 for the first time in several years. Now, New Blue will get its golden opportunity to represent the university – and in the playoffs, no less.

“Quinnipiac is our home and we’re still representing Quinnipiac and all Quinnipiac students,” MacLellan said. “It’s going to be unbelievable.”

There’s something about this team that’s different from past ones. Perhaps it’s the resiliency: New Blue scored two trys and two extra points in the final 10 minutes of its 17-13 win vs. Babson on Sept. 29.

Maybe it’s the team’s confidence: despite getting blown out to Springfield the past three years, New Blue beat Springfield College, 14-7, under the lights last Friday night.

“It’s really special to be the team that does it, 6-0, No. 1 seed,” Cappadoro said.

Whelan said he has been more of a support person than a leader for this year’s team, giving all the credit to the senior class. The seniors have factored into much of the team’s success both on and off the field. MacLellan and the other two captains, Johnson Chu and Joe D’Apice, have had to fill the void of not having a coach by leading practices and teaching younger players the game.

“Being the only team in our league, year after year, with no coach to coordinate places the odds against us,” Cappadoro said. “These captains take on so much responsibility beyond getting kids to show up to practice and teaching kids like myself who had never picked up a rugby ball before. It is a collaborative effort to train and make ourselves prepared for our season.”

Even without a coach, the team struggles to find a place to call “home.” The team works with town officials to rent fields for games, and often times, the players are the ones responsible for preparing the field. In one game last October, the players planted macgyvered PVC pipes into the ground and used duct tape to make the pipes stick together for the goal posts. They even had to spray paint the field to set boundaries.

In order to set up the home game, Cappadoro said several players met with school administration and the athletics department to discuss the field dimensions and set up. In addition, the way the team handled itself was brought up during the meetings, but Cappadoro said that the behav will not be a problem.

“They were great,” Cappadoro said. “It was a joint effort.”

For some, the worst part is not having a complete crowd attend games. Because the team doesn’t have a set location for home games, there is no set fan base. But that can come to a change this weekend.

“The biggest advantage come Saturday is the large fan base the team will have, which we have lacked because we play so far away from campus,” said Whelan, who graduated in 2012. “They will be the 16th player come Saturday.”

With no football team on campus, this is the first time that there will be a Saturday afternoon men’s contact sport. Though there will be no bleachers for seats (there will be ropes for safety areas for fans), some players predict hundreds of people in attendance. As of Tuesday at 11:15 a.m., the game’s Facebook event has 396 people attending.

“We’ve done it without Quinnipiac,” Whelan said. “Now being able to play on their field, this program is going to go sky high.”