St. Bonaventure University started its fall rugby season 0-2 and finished the season ranked 12th in the nation playing in the deepest conference in Division 1-A men’s rugby.
The turning point? Starting 0-2.
“Despite the final scores from the Navy (15-0) and Army (28-10) games, we couldn’t have started off with better challenges. We learned so much from those games,” said Coach Tui Osborne, whose Bonnies won four of their last six matches, including a last-minute 45-42 win over Iona in a post-season bowl match Nov. 17.
“Those first two games were our turning point. We realized we could compete with the best in our conference,” Osborne said. “We knew we would have to work, but we could definitely compete.”
Five of the top 15 teams in the season-ending national poll play in Rugby East. The Bonnies have been league members since 2014, but this is the first time they finished the season nationally ranked.
Crucial to the club’s national ascension was a shift in culture, Osborne said.
“We ditched hierarchy this year and got rid of the term ‘key players,’ anything that separated one man from another. Our big focus was on making behavioral changes that improved performance,” Osborne said. “Pitch time is fair game, and whoever is the right man for the job is who’s going to play.”
Osborne credited captains Kyle Ciquera and Eamonn Matthews for embracing the change.
“They were impressive leaders who took on a great deal of responsibility and contributed to creating positive behavioral changes in the way our team worked,” Osborne said. “But every single player contributed to our progress this year and showed a responsibility for themselves and a collaborative attitude that made all the difference in our season.”
Despite the national recognition, Osborne realizes there are still mountains to climb in his own conference. The Bonnies finished league play 3-3, in fourth place behind No. 4 Army, No. 8 Penn State and No. 10 Kutztown — the three teams that beat SBU. The Bonnies defeated No. 13 Iona and No. 15 Notre Dame College. (Rankings reflect the final national poll.)
“We learned valuable lessons from those losses and we’re looking forward to playing again next season. I do think we were pretty close to going toe-to-toe with Kutztown (which beat SBU, 52-39), but how we prepare before our games is going to be the key to really reaching that next level.”
For now, the Bonnies begin preparing for spring seven-man play.
“We have a good pool of sevens players and there will definitely be some tough competition for spots on the roster,” Osborne said. “All of our players know what it takes to compete and our coaching staff is ready to help foster an environment that helps them get there.”
The Bonnies lose four seniors to graduation in May, but that’s no reason for pessimism, Osborne said.
“We’re a revolving door of development,” he said. “When four leave, four more are ready work. … Our last game against Iona, we won — and we had seven freshman on the roster. They did incredible work.
“Age, years on the squad, popularity... none of those things matter on the pitch,’ Osborne added. “We have instilled a new culture in SBU Rugby and the only direction were moving with that culture is forward.”
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #1 regional university value in New York and #2 in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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