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EPRU Focusing Energies Inward

  • 13 Oct 2021
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Shippensburg & Loyola (Md) last Saturday / Photo: IG @loyolawrugby

Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union (EPRU) is a big collegiate conference with 23 teams, the majority of which are small colleges. But don’t expect the league to send many, if any, representatives to the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) regional playoffs. The Keystone State was – and in some parts, still is – heavily locked down during the pandemic and with a few exceptions, everyone is rebuilding through 7s.

“I don’t know if it’s better or worse than anywhere else,” EPRU women’s college coordinator Scott Stratton said. “Most teams are being led by players who were freshmen and sophomores the last time there was rugby. It’s been interesting trying to get people on the same page. I try to send out e-mails that go over everything, but I’ll still get messages asking, ‘How do I get a referee?’”

But Stratton gets it. He knows it’s been a tough year for Pennsylvania teams and growing pains are ahead. Stratton indicated that schools were 100% locked down during the pandemic, which frankly, is still canceling games and sidelining players across the country. The EPRU hosted online info sessions and attempted to keep players engaged, but virtual rugby can only survive for so long. Numbers and experience were always going to be issues for teams attempting to return to play in fall 2021, but for those in the strictest areas, like Philadelphia, players are still prohibited from training on their facilities.

“We were as locked down as can be,” Stratton said. “Everyone here is in total rebuild mode. There are a couple of teams with good numbers – Shippensburg is one. They have maybe 8-9 returners and 22 brand-new players. But they’re not the type of school that has players who played in high school. So their returners have played maybe two seasons.”

Stratton polled the membership in August, and given teams’ starting numbers and/or experience levels, the consensus was 7s tournaments for the fall. To limit travel and encourage play every weekend, Stratton divided EPRU into four regions:

1. Salisbury (NCR DI), Swarthmore, UPenn (NCR DI), Ursinus (not playing: La Salle, Widener, Neumann)

2. Albright, DeSales, East Stroudsburg, Lafayette, Lehigh

3. Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Loyola Univ of Maryland, Millersville, Shippensburg, York College

4. Juniata, Marywood, Scranton, Susquehanna (not playing: King’s College)

Tournaments began on Sept. 25 and are currently scheduled through Nov. 13-14. Nearly every active team is hosting at least one event. Teams with good numbers have been pushing for 10s, and Stratton is hoping 15s will be more prevalent after fall break.

“The group I hear the most from is the [Franklin & Marshall] group. They seem to be coming back the strongest,” said Stratton, who is continuously messaging new team leadership for weekly scores and other housekeeping items. “The Philly teams are just practicing. They’re just trying to get somewhat back into a moving organization.”

There’s little talk of post-seasons and titles. Gettysburg is hosting a Halloween tournament and with its three pitches, open up the event to the entire membership. If the attendance is there, then EPRU will provide a trophy.

“I just don’t see the point of us sending a team to regionals,” Stratton said of the NCR 15s playoffs that begin Nov. 13-14. “I’m sure Wayne State [College] didn’t miss a beat and played through the entire shutdown. Who wants to pay all that money and travel to get beat by 200 points?”

Or in other words, the conference is focusing energies inward. EPRU has hosted a couple of player clinics so far, and on Saturday, Oct. 17, the conference will host a scrum-specific assembly, which will feature the EPRU coaches who participated in the Mike Cron virtual clinic in September. There are also upcoming officiating and coaching courses coming to Pennsylvania in November. There’s also optimism that the EPRU All-Star 7s program will resume this year as well.

“My hope is that spring 7s will be competitive,” Stratton said. “Then next fall we’ll be back in the mix, back to where we were for most teams. Some will struggle, but we’re going to get there.”

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