March 1, 2024
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Men’s rugby club scores on national level

Team advances to D1-AA semifinals, rises to highest ranking ever

The men's rugby club advanced to the semifinals of the National Collegiate D1-AA Tournament, before falling to Louisville. The men's rugby club advanced to the semifinals of the National Collegiate D1-AA Tournament, before falling to Louisville.
The men's rugby club advanced to the semifinals of the National Collegiate D1-AA Tournament, before falling to Louisville. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

An early loss to Stony Brook University not only provided the members of the Binghamton University men’s rugby club with a desire to prove themselves, but it turned their fall 2022 season around.

“When we lost to Stony Brook, it woke us up,” club president Alex Stabiner says. “From there, we picked up this crazy momentum.”

The team eventually rose to No. 6 nationally in Division 1-AA — its highest ranking since becoming a campus club sport in 1979 — and advanced to the national D1-AA semifinals before falling to the University of Louisville.

Stabiner, a senior studying environmental science, wants the team to shoot even higher after he graduates.

“We did better than anyone thought we were going to do,” he says. “But everyone wants revenge next year. The team has a ton of young talent. They’re all hungry and I’m excited to see what they’ll do.”

Bringing younger members into the fold was a key to the club’s success, says Coach Brian Grills, MA ’03, who describes the season as a combination of raw skill and student mentorship.

“You only get a finite amount of time with these students, and a lot of them come to campus having never played the game,” he says. “It’s always about allowing more seasoned players to become like student-coaches. They guide new players through development.”

Grills has been involved with the rugby club since 1995, when he first moved to Binghamton and wanted to meet people.

“Anywhere in the world, you can walk up to a rugby team and make 20 new friends instantly,” says Grills, who adds he is eager for the team to connect with alumni men’s and women’s club members.

Grills played on the team for four seasons before earning a master’s degree in archaeology and working at the University’s Public Archaeology Facility (PAF). In 2015, he was inspired to coach after playing in an alumni-student match.

Under Grills’ leadership, the 2022 men’s rugby club earned the top seed in the Liberty Rugby Conference, defeating rivals such SUNY Cortland, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Oswego, University at Albany and Cornell University. In the postseason, the team beat James Madison University, 54-21, to advance to the semifinals of the National Collegiate Rugby D1-AA Tournament. The season ended with a last-minute 21-17 loss to the Louisville Cardinals.

“Even when we lost at the end of the year, we didn’t let our heads drop,” says Ryan Thompson, club vice president and junior business administration major. “If you had seen both teams walking off the field, you would have thought we’d won the game.”

Outstanding players also received individual recognition for their skills. Alex Eforo, Liam Heanue, Dan Ahern and Michael Davitt were named as top D1-AA players by the Goff Rugby Report. Davitt was also named a D1-AA All-American. Davitt, a graduate student studying psychology, credits the supportive team atmosphere with pushing him to play better.

“There’s a huge difference now; it’s a much more uplifting environment than it used to be,” he says, reflecting on more than five years with the club. “If someone makes a mistake or does something cool on the field, everyone is going to be cheering them on.”

Davitt anticipates a bright future for the club in 2023 and beyond.

“I would love to see this team flourish. It will, as long as they keep open arms for everyone who wants to come in,” he says. “That was the key part of why we were so successful.”

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