LAFAYETTE, Colo. – There’s no argument that Rugby East is one of the very best college conferences in the country, and many would point to the competition as the nation’s very best. Thirteenth-ranked Kutztown’s fourth-place finish in Rugby East demonstrates just how sturdy the top half of the conference is, headlined by fifth-ranked Penn State.
Meanwhile, middle-tier sides Buffalo, Iona and St. Bonaventure have continued to improve since joining Rugby East in 2014, only furthering to beef up the all-around talent of the conference.
Rugby East 1st-Team Forwards:
Will Burke, prop, Buffalo: Buffalo didn’t dominate too many of its opponents on the scoreboard, but the Bulls frequently had their way with teams in the scrum and Burke was a big reason why. The junior tight head is a former wrestler and football player, and it shows when watching his footwork and overall athleticism. Not only was Burke a big help in the scrum, but was showed promise carrying the ball and as a defender.
Kyle Ciquera, prop, St. Bonaventure: Ciquera was a 1st-Team All-Conference selection in 2015, but that was at hooker. Although the tight head did cover hooker on occasion this fall, he mostly made his presence felt at prop this season. It’s not surprising that Ciquera was, again, rewarded with All-Conference recognition. After all, St. Bonaventure Head Coach Tui Osborne describes him as one of the hardest workers in the Bonnies setup.
Peter Malcolm, hooker, Wheeling Jesuit: Runner-up for Forward of the Year, Malcolm is a 1st-Team selection for the third consecutive season. Not necessarily the largest front rower to take the field, the Ohio Aviator still runs and hits like a freight train. Massive collisions aside, the senior from Parkland, Fla., had three multi-try performances – all coming in Cardinal wins.
Sean Berry, lock, Army: Berry’s playing time from a season ago nearly doubled this year, and West Point’s lineout benefitted from it. Using his 6-foot-3 frame, the senior was a key target in the Black Knights’ lineout and churned tough meters in the middle of the pitch on his way to three tries.
Hugh McAllister, lock, Wheeling Jesuit: In his second season captaining the Cardinals, McAllister was not only the top jumper in Jesuit’s lineout, but was a complete menace when opposing other teams’ lineouts. Not only was the senior Biology major dominant in the set piece, but scored in Wheeling Jesuit’s first four games to open the season.
Colton Kells, flanker, Buffalo: After being deemed worthy of 1st-Team recognition in 2014, Kells missed out on the All-Conference team last year. It wasn’t so much that his productivity dropped off, but more so because Kells moved around Buffalo’s lineup so much it’s been hard to put a label on him. The senior was not only a standout as a blindside flanker this fall, but he also took on the leadership duties as the Bulls captain, and a member of USA Rugby’s Academic Honor Roll.
Malcolm May, flanker, Penn State: Last year’s Rugby East Player of the Year, May was back to terrorizing opponents in 2016. The openside flanker missed Penn State’s first two conference games, making it nearly impossible to reclaim his Player of the Year award, but he was still a unanimous choice for 1st-Team Recognition. Down the stretch, May dotted down seven times over the Nittany Lions’ last five games.
Ben Lemon, eight man, Army: Like teammate Sean Berry, Lemon’s years of hard work were rewarded with a lot more time on the pitch in his senior season. In fact, the Firstie from Utah not only logged a lot of minutes, but led the forwards by directing the first line of defense and scrums.
Rugby East 1st-Team Backs:
Jimmy Ronan, scrum half, Penn State: A near unanimous selection at his position, Ronan earned a spot on the All-Conference team in each of his three years in State College, Pa. An incredibly accurate kicker, which helped lead to his team-high 96 points, Ronan is just as talented as a distributor and the key reason why Penn State’s attack averaged over 60 points per contest.
Mike Dabulas, fly half, Penn State: The conference’s second choice for Back of the Year, Dabulas was describe by Penn State Head Coach Blake Burdette as “the best player on the best team this season.” It appeared the race for the conference’s best fly half would be between Dabulas and Wheeling Jesuit’s Allan Hanson, but when Hanson suffered an injury that caused him to miss half of the season, Dabulas was the easy choice. Often time tough fly halves and No. 10s with a great tactical kicking boot aren’t synonymous with one another. That’s not the case with Dabulas. He’s got a great feel for the kicking game and makes big tackles in the midfield.
Selby Niumataiwalu, center, Penn State: If a Rugby East defense tackled Niumataiwalu at the gain line it was considered a successful phase. The senior wasn’t held back from the gain line many times all year and, more times than not, went well beyond the gain line. As Penn State’s most improved player from a year ago, Niumataiwalu’s importance to the Nittany Lions was felt both on and off the pitch.
Jaret Williamson, center, St. Bonaventure: Williamson came virtually out of nowhere to capture the attention of the entire Rugby East conference. Playing at outside center, Williamson’s defense was most noteworthy this season, taking down the conference’s biggest and best ball carriers with ease. Next season, expect Williamson to be just as dominant with ball in hand.
Kina Malafu, wing, Kutztown: A knee injury caused the 2016 All-American to miss a couple games early in the season, but Malafu has too much overall ability to be relegated to the 2nd-Team. After impressing on the All-Americans’ summer tour in Australia, Malafu was a major playmaker in Kutztown’s back line and one of the very best wingers in the country.
Mike Eife, wing, Penn State: Another year, another All-Conference selection for Penn State’s captain. Eife isn’t a monstrously-sized winger the modern game is being more accustomed to seeing, but he simply has a knack for making big plays – especially when the Nittany Lions need it the most.
Jake Lachina, full back, Army: Not far from being named Back of the Year, Lachina had another huge season for West Point. The junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., not only helped Army secure seven conference wins, but occasionally took over matches, posting three multi-try games.
Rugby East 2nd-Team Forwards:
Luis Carpio, prop, St. Bonaventure: Carpio, like several others on the list, is making his third appearance on Rugby East’s All Conference Team. His senior season was his most productive and he was noted as one of the best front rows in the loose.
Jake Glass, prop, Kutztown: One of many talented freshmen on the Kutztown team, Glass’ upbringing in Johannesburg, R.S.A., allows the loose head to play well beyond his years. The Golden Bears were widely considered the best scrummaging team in the conference, and Glass had a lot to do with that. Throw in his four tries, and he had himself one heck of a freshman campaign.
Johan Van Wyk, hooker, Kutztown: Van Wyk upgraded himself from an Honorable Mention standout in 2015 to a 2nd-Team All-Conference performer in 2016, and it’s easy to see why. The senior helped anchor a dominant scrum, scored 12 – yes 12 – tries, was the club president and once again made the Dean’s list as a Pre-Med student. Needless to say, Van Wyk kicked butt both on and off the pitch this fall.
Nick Hohlt, lock, Kutztown: Hohlt added weight to his 6-foot-5 frame ahead of the 2016 season after All-Conference recognition last year and once again had a dominant season. A powerful piece to Kutztown’s scrum, Hohlt also knows how to use his length to his advantage by making long line breaks in the outer channels.
Mitchell Sanderson, lock, Army: Sanderson wasn’t able to match his four tries from a season ago, but he was no less effective defensively this season for the Black Knights. There is a reason why players prepare for a physical game when they go to West point’s Anderson Rugby Complex and it’s because of players like Sanderson.
John D’Allara, flanker, Iona: D’Allara didn’t wait until his senior season to become a leader for Iona, but he did take his leadership duties to another level in his final season as a Gael. For a guy who’s so good defensively, it’s pretty impressive he was able to lead the team in tries, too.
Maninderjit Singh, flanker, Buffalo: It’s a shame for Singh that there are so many good loose forwards in Rugby East. After earning 2nd-Team recognition in both 2014 and 2015, Singh settles for 2nd-Team selection again this year. He covers the pitch from touch line to touch line, provides go-forward ball and tackles like a Mack Truck, then gets up and does it again. What more can you ask for from your openside flanker?
Andrew Waggoner, eight man, Wheeling Jesuit: The senior from Staten Island, N.Y., was described by Head Coach Tommy Duffy as “the unsung hero game in and game out.” A tackle machine on defense, there was also that time Waggoner collected four tries against West Virginia.
Rugby East 2nd-Team Backs:
Jake Estes, scrum half, Kutztown: When a freshman starts at a key position such as scrum half, you can bet it will come with its share of growing pains. That wasn’t the case with Estes. He started every game for the Golden Bears in his freshman season, and Head Coach Dr. Gregg Jones says he can count the number of mistakes Estes made on one hand.
Christian Artuso, fly half, St. Bonaventure: Just a sophomore, Artuso is the best player on the Bonnies. He makes great decisions as the team’s first receiver, and is becoming known for his highlight reel-worthy kick-passes to his wings for tries.
Luke Heun, wing, Army: Originally a wing when he arrived at West Point from Palmer, Ak., Heun was moved to the centers and made captain so he could be more of a focal point of the offense and reward him for his leadership and hard work. He was the main communicator on a defense that allowed fewer than 10 points a game this fall.
John Sage, center, Kutztown: Often overshadowed by the numerous All-Americans Kutztown puts out year in and year out, Sage has quietly been a major contributor over the years for the Golden Bears. As a senior, Sage’s biggest attribute this fall was the calming presence he instilled throughout a lineup littered with freshmen.
Frank Nugent, wing, Buffalo: Just a sophomore, Nugent started all 12 games for Buffalo this fall. While his four tries were nothing to scoff at, he has an incredibly high work rate for a winger and is always looking for additional work.
Dmontae Noble, wing, Kutztown: Although Noble only started two games this season, he caught the attention of coaches around the conference as an impact reserve during his first season at Kutztown. With electric pace, Noble can make defenders miss better than anyone else in the conference. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Noble in the future when he takes over a starting position for the Golden Bears.
Luke Ellis, full back, West Virginia: There wasn’t a ton of celebrating in the West Virginia locker room this season, but that’s not because of Ellis. The junior from Milwaukee provided a solid boot for the Mountaineers, but that’s not likely the attribute that caught the attention from opposing teams. Ellis scored five tries in West Virginia’s final three games.
All-Rugby East Honorable Mention Forwards:
Zach Barnes, prop, Penn State
Jordan Crofts, prop, Penn State
Nick D’Allara, lock, Iona
Tom Drietlein, eight man, Buffalo
Chris Ghering, prop, Wheeling Jesuit
Allan Kaufman, prop, Kutztown
Jack McLean, lock, Penn State
Ryan Moshak, hooker, Army
Joe Osinubi, flanker, Delaware
Jon Petteruti, flanker, Iona
Raaqim Rispress, flanker, Army
Frank Rolf, prop, Wheeling Jesuit
Joe Thatcher, flanker, Kutztown
All-Rugby East Honorable Mention Backs:
Tom Abram, scrum half, Delaware
CJ Burnes, center, West Virginia
Aaron Gray, full back, Kutztown
Allan Hanson, fly half, Wheeling Jesuit
Kiefer Kei-Boguinard, center,
Jon Kim, fly half, Army
Jeff Malm-Annan, wing, Army
Santi Mascolo, center, Iona
John Powers, wing, Iona
Matt Ramirez, center, Delaware
Andy Sullivan, wing, Army
Rugby East Freshman of the Year – Jackson Clark, Kutztown:
With so many talented freshmen in the Golden Bears’ first XV this season, it was only appropriate that a first-year Kutztown player takes the award. Clark slotted in at a position typically handled by upperclassmen and performed admirably. He scored an impressive six tries, but also enjoyed showing off his powerful and timely kicking ability that frequently pinned opponents deep inside their 22-meter line.
Rugby East Back of the Year – Mike Scarcella, Iona:
A starter since he stepped onto the Iona campus three seasons ago, Scarcella is heading toward All-American honors in his junior year. Described by one opposing coach as “the toughest player in Rugby East,” Scarcella’s hard-nosed running and tackling in the centers make him the heart and soul of the Gaels.
Rugby East Forward of the Year – Rob Irimescu, Penn State:
One-third of what might be the best back row in the country, Irimescu doesn’t score the tries that fellow flanker Malcolm May tends to, but he does all of the dirty work expected of a No. 6 – and does it well. On a gritty Penn State team that allowed just 12 points per match, the junior Finance major recorded more tackles than any other Nittany Lion this fall.
Rugby East Academic Achievement – Ben Lemon, Army:
Lemon was not only the best eight man in the conference this season, but he was also pretty darn impressive in the classroom. As a member of the United States Army Aviation Branch at West Point, Lemon is double majoring in Economics and Spanish while carrying a 3.901 GPA.
Rugby East Player of the Year – Chris Burian, Penn State:
Players love to play alongside guys like Burian and hate to line up across from him. He’s tough – both mentally and physically – and has a will to win each point of contact he’s involved in for 80 minutes. As one opposing Rugby East coach had to say about the senior eight man, “What a load! He’s so strong and physical, and has great complementary skills. When he gets on the front foot, it seems like the whole team does.” Oh by the way, he was also tied for the team lead with seven tries.