Rugby men hit road for season opener

Laura Conway

With 2007 NMU alumni Ken Laverty coming back to coach the NMU men’s club rugby team, the Moosemen are ready to ruck right through their competition this season.

After playing three years with the New London County Rugby Football Club and helping them win the 2011 NERFU DIII Championships, Laverty said he was ready to come back to the Upper Peninsula.

“I came back and have been working on my own business, JK Partners, for the better part of a year now,” Laverty said. “I started volunteering my spare time to coach the boys; it’s one of the things I’m passionate about and I love to do it with my old team.”

Laverty said the team is looking strong this year with one of the biggest recruited classes in recent memory.

“We have over 30 guys and a lot of them are recruits who already have rugby experience,” Laverty said. “There may even be a few rookies that make their way up to the starting line-up.”

One of this year’s recruits with experience is freshman Nathan Vertel who has two positions on the official roster, inside player and cheer master.

For him, playing rugby is a family past time.

“I’ve been around rugby my whole life,” Vertel said. “My dad plays for a club back in Detroit and I have been watching him play and practice since I was a kid.”

After playing on a high school and club team for five years, Vertel said he was glad to find out the school he ended up going to had rugby so he could continue playing.

“I wanted to go to a school I could be outdoors all the time,” Vertel said. “Now I get to explore all Marquette has to offer and look forward to knocking people over on the rugby pitch.”

Senior Ian Ronayne, Moosmen scrum half, is coming to the end of his college career and comes to each match with the same enthusiasm as when he first started.

“I have been playing rugby since my brother got me into it in the seventh grade,” Ronayne said. “I love playing; I get as excited for these matches as I did for my first match.”

Ronayne said anyone who wants to play post-college rugby has to get noticed on a city league then you can get picked to play on something like the Michigan Rugby Union Select team.

“Once you make a select team, the national rugby coaches will pick who they like and bring them to tryouts,” Ronayne said.

Having a coach for the team has made it a lot easier for Ronayne to meet his goal of continuing his playing career after college.

“Over the past few years seniors have had to play both coach and athlete roles,” Ronayne said. “With Laverty here we can focus on our game and have a better chance to continue on after college.”

The Moosemen have already had a win under their belt to warm up for the season.

The Alumni match where the current team play a match against graduated ruggers.

“It was a really good learning experience for the rookies and gave us a chance to see how we play together,” Ronayne said. “The first kick off was actually right to a rookie who ran it back to score a try right away.”

Laverty said he is ready to get the season started and see how far the team will get this year.

“We are getting ready for our first match of the season against Milwaukee who were ranked fifth nationally last year,” Laverty said. “We didn’t rank that high after last fall season, but after last spring season I am expecting some good things from the boys.”

Ronayne said the team has some tough competition headed their way after a switch in rugby unions.

“We just combined with the Wisconsin Rugby Union,” Ronayne said. “Now we are going to be playing the best teams in both Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Laverty has faith in the cohesiveness of the team even though half of the team is coming in as strangers with no experience with the game.

He said the team is bonding really well on and off the pitch.

“Success comes with team unity, it’s important to trust the guys next to you on the field,” Laverty said. “Our team is getting to that point where they can not only find each other on the pitch but rely on each other’s support off the pitch.”

The Moosemen play their first match of the season away at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.