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Championship Push

Josh VanDyke • Mar 31, 2018 at 12:31 AM

The Grand Haven boys rugby team has reached every conceivable milestone that any young program hopes to accomplish during their first five years of existence.

They’ve qualified for the playoffs every season, made the state semifinals in three of those seasons and played in the state championship game twice.

Now, head coach Dave McDonough and the Buccaneers are ready to aim for the ultimate goal.

“It’s something we’re chasing,” he said of a state championship. “Our initial goal was to make the playoffs the first few years as a team, and we did that. The program is solid now, so we feel comfortable talking about championship goals, and we want to reach that milestone.”

For McDonough, winning a state championship would be the best way to reward a collection of young athletes for their hard work over the years.

“It would be a crowning achievement for the program,” he said. “We’ve always taught our players that their hard work would pay off with positive results and that would just embody that message if we were to win a state title. These kids love rugby and it’s a demanding sport, so finishing the season with that trophy would be special.”

The road to a state championship will be different for the Bucs this spring, as the Michigan Youth Rugby Association has done away with the Division 1 and Division 2 segmented playoff formatting and switched to a more geographic approach instead.

“We’re doing North and South Divisions this year for the playoffs, and we’re mixing Division 1 and Division 2 programs together. So, we’re going to play teams like Rockford, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the postseason now, which makes the road a little more difficult.

“Most of those programs have been around for more than 20 years, so we’re going up against some big-time competition.”

The Buccaneers are making a name for themselves as a prestigious program, however, as evidenced by their inclusion in the Penn Invitational Tournament this spring.

“It’s one of the biggest national tournaments for boys rugby,” McDonough said. “It is held in Elkhart, Indiana, and the fact that we were invited to participate in it was really cool. We went down early and watched Penn play St. Ann’s from Ohio at the college level. A lot of the new kids got to see a lot of high-level rugby, which was a great way to teach on the fly and show them what some of the better rugby teams out there look like.”

Learning on the fly will be important for the Bucs this spring, as they try to replace seven starters from last year’s squad that finished 9-1.

“We’re replacing a lot of experience from our starting lineup, but we are excited about the guys we have coming back and the new guys we’ve brought in. We just need to work on our continuity as a team, and I think we will be in a good spot once we get used to playing competitively together.”

The Buccaneers do return some standout performers from last year’s team with All-Conference players such as Charles Allen (Mona Shores), Chuckie Anthony (Mona Shores), Collin Monsma (Grand Haven), Dee Davis (Mona Shores) and Tristan Robbins (Mona Shores).

“We’re really excited to have Chuckie back from his injury,” added McDonough. “The trainers and doctors cleared him to play right before the Penn Invitational, so he was excited to get back out there. We’ve been slowly working him back into the swing of things. He’s been playing about 15 minutes per game, but we’ll ramp up his playing time as he gets more comfortable.

“Charles, Dee and Tristan are also big contributors from Mona Shores for us. All of those kids have really progressed quickly during their careers with us, and we’re excited to have them back in the fold again.”

The heart of the team and the program appears to be within some of the senior leadership on the roster.

“Collin Monsma is the one that makes everything go for us,” added McDonough. “His position is crucial out there and his leadership is even more important for us. Then, we have kids like Nate Podein, who is always consistent and always doing the little things to help us be successful.

“I’m also excited to see how Joey King does for us at the nine position. He’s basically the quarterback of the team, and there’s a lot of decision making involved, and he’s really taken the role and took off with it. His sister (Erica) has won three national titles on Davenport’s (University) rugby team, so he’s got a lot to live up to, but all the coaches are excited for him to showcase his talent.”

Every spring, the Buccaneers seem to have a few new athletes join the scrum and this year is no exception.

“We’re at about 34 kids this year,” McDonough added. “We only had 12 kids during winter training, but once the winter sports started wrapping up, more and more kids started joining our practices.

“One kid we are excited about as a new player is Malic Love. He is a great multi-sport athlete and he’s really picked things up quickly. He was a running back on the football team, so we know he’s not afraid of contact. We think he’s going to be really good.

“Another kid that’s surprised us so far is Cameron Scarborough. He’s taken a big step this year and he will be a contributor for us.”

The Buccaneers will compete at the Legacy 10s Tournament in Brighton today, with action starting at noon.

For more information on the Grand Haven boys rugby team, including photo galleries from every game, visit grandhavenrugby.weebly.com.

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