BOULDER, Colo. – For many student-athletes competing in D1A Rugby, playing rugby at its highest level is the ultimate goal – even if that means taking a step away from his college team to compete on a select side. For four D1A players, that’s exactly what they did this past weekend.
Kutztown’s Alex Faison-Donahoe, Colorado State’s Ben Pinkelman, and Wheeling Jesuit’s Allan Hanson and Peter Malcolm each took to the pitch at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a chance at sevens hardware and $10,000 at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 Halloween Rugby 7s.
The tournament consisted of four domestic, city-based select sides: Denver 7s, Ohio 7s, New York City 7s, and Rugby Utah. Additionally, the USA Falcons and USA Hawks, made up of current residents of the Olympic Training Center and players brought in for recent High Performance camps, were apart of the eight-team field. Finally, Argentina Rugby and Rugby Canada each sent a squad that didn’t lack experience on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“It was a great and valuable experience to compete against international teams, and know that I have what it takes to play at that level,” said Pinkelman of the tournament. “Training with the Eagles is a good start, but you never really know until you play in a tournament with players of that caliber.”
Recent HP Camp invitees Faison-Donahoe, Pinkelman, and Malcolm played for the USA Falcons, while Hanson, who helped captain Ohio-based 1823 over the summer, earned a spot on AIG Men’s Junior All-American Sevens Head Coach Paul Holmes’ Ohio 7s roster.
Neither the Falcons nor Ohio 7s were able to reach the Nov. 1 Cup Final, but the college-grade players learned valuable lessons competing against full-fledged internationals.
“The hardest part in the change of competition for me was the quickness of some of the players,” admitted Pinkelman. “Leaving the smallest half gap at that level will lead to a try.”
Hanson echoed the Colorado State flanker’s view of the weekend’s competition.
“The biggest difference as compared to a college match is the minimal room for error,” Hanson explained. “If you make even the smallest of mistakes, these boys will make you pay.”
While mistakes over the course of a sevens tournament are inevitable, especially when playing up in competition, Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday seemed quite impressed with the performance of his college-grade prospects.
“I am pleased with all of the players in the Falcons over the weekend,” said Friday. “Their attitude and enthusiasm to work hard for each other was where it needed to be, together with their endeavor to do the right thing for the good of the team. These are traits and behaviors we are looking for in players if they want to be a part of the setup and want to be successful.”
Of course, like any coach, Friday did see a glaring area the youngsters need to improve upon.
“The big areas or gap for the boys to make up firstly is in conditioning, as they are coming from behind in terms of the levels of conditioning and collision fitness required to operate on the World Series,” Friday noticed.
Select side call-ups like these are not only good for college rugby because the individual players improve their game through elite competition, but their college clubs can feed off their newly acquired tutelage, as well.
“There are a lot of system-type things that I will try to bring back to Colorado State,” Pinkelman said of his return to Fort Collins, Colo. “But the most important thing you learn in the Mike Friday and Chris Brown environment is the mindset of constantly working your hardest to get better, and when you can barely stand – go longer.”
Hanson, on the other hand, got a refreshing reminder that rugby is, after all, a sport that is meant to be fun and shared between friends.
“The camaraderie amongst the boys is what I want to implement at my school,” Hanson said. “Sometimes we all get so caught up in our studies and personal lives that we forget about the brotherhood that is right under our noses.
“Our time to play college rugby grows smaller with each passing day, and it’s the memories we make with our brothers on and off the field that last a lifetime.”