In just its first season, Marist rugby is preparing for playoffs. The team went 5-2 in the regular season, and will play at Chicago Blaze Academy, 13011 W. Smith Rd. in Lemont, on Friday, May 20, at 7pm.
The program was started by 1998 Marist alumni and longtime players Jim Drousias and Chris Lynch.
“As an alum of Marist, I, along with the other coaches wanted to give the students of Marist an opportunity to experience the fastest growing sport in America,” explained Drousias. “We want to be able to compete and win a state championship. Many of the surrounding schools have programs, and there is no reason Marist should not be a perennial state champion. This will give Marist the opportunity to offer students additional choices and it’s an option that will bring pride to the Marist community.”
But going about starting a program for a sport with which many students are unfamiliar could seem daunting. The coaching staff, and students like Ray Ryan ’16, who was eager for Marist to have a team, were undeterred. “I had played for another school that allowed students from other high schools to play,” Ryan explained. “But then the policy was changed, which meant I couldn’t play anymore, so I really wanted Marist to start a team.” They started the program by meeting with interested students and offering monthly skill clinics and strategy sessions. As the season neared, preparation increased with bi-weekly training on technique, fundamentals of tackling, passing, and learning to play the game.
And the interest was there. There were enough students to field both a junior varsity and varsity squad. Marist competes in Division 3 of Rugby Illinois, which includes club and school teams that are newer to the sport. Marist started the season with a non-conference scrimmage against Mt. Carmel, then followed with wins against Barrington, Twin City, Morton High School, and Peoria. They took two tough losses against Blaze and Hinsdale.
Junior David Tischina, who helped the school’s football team advance to state, said he was initially nervous about how well Marist might do in a new sport with a group of players who weren’t all that familiar with one another. That changed quickly. “I knew after the first practice that we could do big things,” Tischina said. Rugby has given the football lineman a whole new experience. “I never had the experience of running a ball. It’s totally different and I love it.” He also says the coaches are great, and that while practice and games are serious, they also create a very fun atmosphere.
The coaches bring with them years of coaching and playing experience. Drousias started playing for the University of Illinois in 1998, and played for four years. For the past ten years, he’s played for the South Side Irish men’s rugby team in Mt. Greenwood. With the same club he also took on coaching duties, overseeing players ages 18 to 55. He is also the head coach for the South Side Irish Academy team, which is made up of high school players from the surrounding Catholic schools. Under his coaching, they have garnered state trophies.
In addition to Drousias and Lynch, Joe Shanahan ’11, Kevin Quinlan, and Drew Youpel '00 make up the coaching staff.
Rugby is the fastest growing sport in America, growing at over 14% year over year during the last five years. There are over 1.2 million participants and in Illinois alone. There are more than 40 boys high school rugby teams competing for a state title, and there are more than 530 colleges across the U.S. that offer rugby and many of them offer scholarships for rugby.
Marist rugby will offer a camp this summer June 13-16 for 5th through 9th grade boys. Register online.