THE TRY-LINE THE BUZZ ON THE EAST COAST / KUTZTOWN RUGBY SEVENS
The Kutztown University Rugby Sevens program has been a national powerhouse since its inception seven years ago. The year 2017 isn't an exception, other then, this year's team could be the most dangerous side ever assembled at the mid-sized university in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Golden Bears have finished second, second and third, at the last three Collegiate Rugby Championships (CRC), the largest and most prestigious collegiate rugby tournament in the land.
Kutztown has taken four time champion, Cal Berkeley, to the wire losing in 2014 by a score of 24-21 and in sudden death overtime in 2015. Last year Kutztown lost in the semi-finals to UCLA, 14-12. However, every year, the Bear's coaching staff reviews and plans for that next run at the elusive title. They have been constructing this year's team for the past several years. The culmination of their efforts have created a team of skilled veterans and highly sought after underclassmen that chose to stake their claim in Kutztown.
The veterans are led by USA Falcon and collegiate All-American Sevens player, Alex Faison-Donahoe. The senior Golden Bear hails from Portland, Oregon and is known for his superb speed, rugby IQ and the ability to play the high ball as well as anyone in the country. His running mate with the same exceptional speed, is All-American, Vetekina Malafu from Maui, Hawaii. Combine that duo with other veteran speedsters like Murphy Lill from Albany, New York, John Sage from Severn, Maryland and Jason DeNofa from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and you have a blur of speed and rugby knowledge tightly wrapped in those familiar hooped jerseys, that you only see them wear in the tournament Finals.
Those seniors have a vast amount of experience at the CRC. Each of them having played on the national stage for the past two or three years. Along with them is yet another gifted senior that transferred from Arkansas State by way of the United Kingdom. David Snead had played in the CRC two years ago with the Red Wolves but missed it last year as a Golden Bear, due to a knee injury. He is healthy this year and brings an international level pass and elusive speed and maneuverability to the lineup.
Any team would be ecstatic to have these players in their lineup and the Golden Bears are no exception but when we add the speed and rugby knowledge that their freshmen class brings to the table, we move to the "Buzz Level" that is the talk of the collegiate sevens scene. Dmontae Noble from Falls Church, Virginia along with Aaron Gray from Washington D.C. and Jackson Clark from Greenville, South Carolina are the players that add a new dimension to the Kutztown attack. The Kutztown Sevens team has always had the reputation of fielding large, hard-nosed personnel that would rather run over you then around you. The Golden Bear's forwards were always a force to be reckoned with because of their physical approach to the game. Kutztown still has one of those, his name is Angel Santiago from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. However, that is where it stops and the entire new look is comprised of one true forward and eleven back line players. Along with maybe the fastest of them all, in sophomore Tyler Valovcin from, Metuchen, New Jersey. Sam Devine of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a converted back line player that brings a special yeoman's type of physicality and toughness to the abbreviated game.
My reference to an abundance of speed lies in the results of Kutztown's last three tournaments, or I might rephrase that as, their first three tournaments. This team is only getting better and have raced their way to three consecutive Cup Championships at the Bermuda Sevens, the Mount St. Mary's Sevens and most recently, the Stony Brook Sevens. This sevens comet has amassed 569 points with a mere forty two points against in these three tournaments. That is an average game score of 36-3, in favor of Kutztown, giving this rugby juggernaut sixteen consecutive victories and no defeats.
The leading try scorer on the team is freshmen Dmontae Noble with an astounding twenty three tries. It's even more impressive when you realize that most of the Kutztown players are restricted to limited minutes per game. The "Flying Hawaiian, Vetekina Malafu is second with eleven tries. Jason Denofa and Alex Faison-Donahoe share the scoring with nine and eight tries respectively. Tyler Valovcin, Murphy Lill and David Snead have crossed the goal line seven times a piece. Scrum Half, John Sage, and impact player, Aaron Gray, are in pursuit with six try on their resumes.
This is the new buzz on the tournament circuit. However, this is only half of the "Buzz". The rugby purist cannot over look what the Golden Bears are doing on the defensive side of the ball. They have erected a concrete wall on defense. Nine opponents have been shut out and six teams have only scored one try in a game. The only team to score two tries in a game thus far, was Kutztown-II, when they played one another in the Bermuda semi-finals. Kutztown's overall speed has enabled them to catch almost anyone that breaks the line or turns a corner. Not to mention the relentless defensive mindset that produces constant pressure on the opposition. When the Kutztown defense manufactures a turnover, which has been quite often, it is impressive to watch them use their defensive prowess to mount an instantaneous attack.
RUN WITH THE BEARS!