Kutztown University Men’s Rugby: A Profile of Excellence
The Kutztown Men’s Rugby Club is currently enjoying another undefeated fall 15s season and leads the D1A Rugby East Conference. Only the November 7th match against rival, Penn State (with two losses this season), stands in the way.
Article written by Doug Coil and Jennifer Umberger
KU is currently ranked 6th in the Country in a recent D1A Rugby poll. A Rugby East title would be another accomplishment that would certainly reinforce the successes of the Kutztown program over the last 31 years.
Why is Kutztown Men’s Rugby Club so successful?
First, they have outstanding coaches. Dr. Gregg “Doc” Jones has been the Head Men’s Rugby Coach at Kutztown for 30 years. He is assisted by his Associate Head Coach, Larry Chester, who doubles as the Defensive Coach, as well as the Strength and Conditioning Coach. John Siano has also coached for KU for many years and focuses his work with the developmental side teams. Paul Presinzano, an alum of the program, has coached the 7s side in prior years and continues to provide strategic support.
From the onset of his involvement in 1985, Doc Jones looks for rugby players with character, who are hard workers and who want to fit into a team and family-oriented culture. With Kutztown University’s academic standards in mind, students needed to achieve success both in the classroom and on the field. Their past performance is certainly a factor in recommending students for admission.
Kutztown, Pennsylvania is a community with a population of 5,000 people. With over 9,000 students at Kutztown University, it is indeed a University town. That implies responsibility to the community. The players are involved in all aspects of campus life and work to be good community citizens, establishing a respectful image within the borough and the campus community.
With a proven track record of rugby success in both 15s and 7s, Kutztown Men’s Rugby now draws players from many states and from abroad. One factor that draws attention is certainly the team’s success. Another is the personal attention the players receive from the moment of initial inquiry. This is certainly part of the culture of the coaching staff, as well as the Admissions team at the University, as they work diligently to remain in communication, offer support, and assist the student-athletes and their families as they navigate the college search process. Once enrolled at KU, the players are assigned a mentor, another team member, and are introduced to the vast number of people on campus who they can connect with for support. Students find a tremendous amount of support in areas of academic success and achievement, career development, graduation preparation, and enjoy the broad alumni network that the club continues to foster. Ultimately, this team lives by Doc Jones’ motto: “The Secret to Success: Go to Work Every Day.”
Many current and former players have continued to give back to the rugby community through coaching and other involvement with the sport. They are often found on the sidelines at all home matches, in the visitors section at away games, and in the stands in what is arguably the greatest weekend in collegiate rugby, the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia in May. Because the culture, personal growth and development has been so integral to many, ongoing support is a given.
In any organization there are often rituals that are followed. Prior to a match, the team eats breakfast together. They also support the Women’s Rugby team at matches and events and that is reciprocated. University staff, faculty and even the President are regular attendees at matches. It is common to have several hundred fans from the community, University and Alumni lining the sidelines for matches. The University and coaching staff also act as ombudsmen to the Alumni and Parents. When parents may be some distance away, they place their trust in the University and the coaching staff. Sharon Picus takes that responsibility to heart. She has been a club adviser for many years and is the liaison between the Club, University and Parents/Alumni.
If you’re a fan of KU Rugby or follow the team in any way, you know that they have a monster following on social media and take publicity very seriously. With more than 8,000 Facebook fans (second only to a top team in the northwest) and the Twitterverse enjoying regular match results and personal and club achievements, communication and connection with supporters near and far is paramount. Jenifer Umberger, as one member of the club’s dual-advising team, volunteers her time supporting the students on the club’s Executive Board who are charged with much of the public relations efforts. She has also brought marketing expertise and recommendations that have resulted in many new initiatives, including the “baseball card” style player profiles that appeared online for the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship, and have been copied by many.
Kutztown University Men’s Rugby Profile
Founded in 1984, Kutztown University Men’s Rugby is a force to be reckoned with. Since 1985, under the direction of head coach, Gregg “Doc” Jones, KU has never experienced a losing season, with numerous undefeated seasons, more than eight hundred victories, and the most recent seasons ending with a 157-10-1 record. KU rugby fields two sides during the fall fifteens season, three sevens sides in the spring, and plays on a dedicated, full size rugby pitch. There are four full time coaches with more than sixty participating members representing 13 states and four nations. The university supports the club in all endeavors of managing the sport on campus.
Throughout the club’s 30 years, there have been outstanding individual achievements: scores of EPRU Select Side and MARFU Select Side player appointments; twenty USA All-American Collegiate selections; one USA Eagle Sevens Team member, Marco Barnard; and most recently, Michael Lawrenson a 2014 graduate, who has signed a professional contract to play for Counties Manukau Steelers in New Zealand. In addition, as a KU Senior, Niku Kruger was a member of the USA Selects team that completed a three-game tour in South America in spring 2015. He went on to play for the USA Eagles in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, earning his second international cap during the USA v South Africa matchup. His first test match cap was in August, 2015 against Canada. Alex Faison-Donahoe is poised to join this elite group and was selected a member of the USA Falcons for the Halloween 7s Elite Invitational Tournament in Florida, October 31 and Nov. 1, 2015.
2013-14 was a tremendous year for the Golden Bears. Not only did the fall witness an undefeated 15s season, but Kutztown captured the inaugural American Collegiate Rugby Conference Championship (ACRC) as the capstone. The spring of 2014 was the first where Kutztown focused purely on 7s. The team stood poised to make a spectacular return to the 2014 Collegiate Rugby Championships, its second bid to the series. The Golden Bears did not disappoint. Kutztown reached the CRC Championship game after besting Life University in a come-from-behind 19-17 victory, setting the stage for a Golden Bears vs Golden Bears finale. Kutztown finished as the runner-up to Cal following a narrow 24-21 defeat.
2014-15 was another year to remember. KU had a tremendous fall 15s season that ended with the defeat of the University of Michigan to take the American Collegiate Rugby Championship title. In the spring, KU dominated 7s tournament play with more than 45 victories and five tournament wins to their credit, culminating in a decisive win over AIC to take the ACRC crown. In May, the KU Golden Bears once again took their place among the nation’s elite in a return to the 2015 Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, again coming in second to three-time winner Cal 17-12 in a stunning overtime battle.
The tone has been set concerning the quality of the Kutztown’s Men’s Rugby Club in the description above. Take the time to hear about the program and how Kutztown has helped players thrive from the coaches, players, University staff and the Alumni. After listening to the interviews and reading about the academic programs that Kutztown University offers, I’m certain that both the Rugby Club and the University will be a College and a Rugby Program of choice.