The Reign of Rugby Returns to SUNY New Paltz

Photo Courtesy of SUNY New Paltz Athletic Communications Office
New Paltz rugby is back and better than ever.

The New Paltz Rugby Football Club (NPRFC) has had a killer fall season. Going 3-1 in their conference makes for an incredible comeback after a year-long suspension. 

The team is one of SUNY New Paltz’s club sports playing in the Tri-State Rugby Conference against other club teams from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. So far this season, NPRFC has played against Drew University, Bard University, Molloy University and Seton Hall. In their games against Drew, Bard and Molloy, the Hawks have come out on top. 

The start of the season was marked with a new head coach joining the team. Coach Joel Venables is an NPRFC alumnus who coached at various other schools, such as Marist College, before returning to his alma mater. “Joel is an amazing coach and he’s got this team improving every week,” said Josh Holland-Weiss, third-year outside center. “We are very lucky to have such a wise leader guiding our team. His enthusiasm and passion for the game motivates us to be a great team every day, every practice.”

Along with a new coach, a majority of the team consists of brand-new players. They started their season with nine returning players — now they have 25 active members. Holland-Weiss highlighted a few standout players: Mikey Vernola, Kyle Spratley, Jason Cusumano and Taha Syed. Fellow NPRFC team member Sean O’Hehir, fourth-year flanker and center, said, “The dedication they’ve shown coming to every practice makes me proud to have kept this team alive. They’re the future of this team, and with these guys, our future is bright.”

NPRFC had to rebuild from the ground up after their suspension and losing their previous coach. They were suspended due to an alleged hazing report according to an interview the team did with Alex Goff from Goff Rugby Report. The team worked with SUNY New Paltz to get reinstated and return to their status as a sanctioned club on campus.

After a year without playing, the team has worked hard to get back to where they were and create the winning team that they are now. “Our ‘secret’ has got to be team bonding and camaraderie,” said Caleb Persanis, third-year scrum-half and captain of the team. 

 “The comeback has been awesome.” Persanis was sidelined last year from any activity due to ACL surgery. “This season marked my own return to the field. So, not only are we playing again but we’re winning.”

Looking to the future, the team is excited to keep playing their way through the conference and facing off with one team in particular. “Vassar, hands down,” said Holland-Weiss. O’Hehir added, “They are our true rivals and I know it’s going to be a battle when we share the field on Oct. 22. I cannot wait for them to realize what our program has become this season.” 

Their game against Vassar College will take place on the Hawks’ home field on Sunday, Oct. 22.