Empire Conference Play Starts Saturday

Article written by Pat Clifton and published on Friday, 09 September 2011.  Check out the Empire Conference Play Starts Saturday article on RUGBYMag.com or read below.

The DI college rugby season gets underway Saturday in the Midwest and the Empire Conference. The latter league has two games, and both figure to be highly competitive.

In one, 2010 New York State champs Buffalo hosts Binghamton. The Bulls finished above Binghamton in the league table last season, en route to a Sweet 16 appearance, but Binghamton got the better of Buffalo in the State University New York tournament.

Buffalo coach Mike Hodgins is wary of ascending Binghamton.

“I think Binghamton’s backline is probably one of the best in the league right now, so I think you’ve got to have a lot of respect for Binghamton,” he said. “There’s no easy games.”

Unfortunately for the Bulls, they’ll be without the services of No. 8 and playmaker Matt Agugliaro who is recovering from summer surgery.

The other Empire match features St. Bonaventure and Syracuse.

The Cuse made the DI Sweet 16 in 2010 , before the College Premier Division took a number of the country’s best teams. Part of the reason for the Hammerheads drop from prominence was the loss of several tight-five players. They’ve again lost some heavy hitters up front, but St. Bonaventure coach Clarence Picard believes his Bonnies will still be up against a physical side.

“For the last several years they’ve been the team to beat,” he said. “They just bring so much physicality, and they’re always just so well drilled.”

The Bonnies are a young squad, and the Empire Conference is split into two divisions with each division playing a home and away schedule, so Picard is looking forward to blooding some of his youngsters against Syracuse.

“Obviously, we want to win. You go into every match to win, but we’re a pretty young side this year, and we’re just taking it one day at a time. If we win, great. If we lose, OK we get another crack at Syracuse later in the year,” he said.

“The goal is just to improve throughout the season, and put our young guys in situations where they can gain some confidence, so hopefully in the second half of the year we can be a competitive team.”

St. Bonaventure has a pair of fifth-year senior captains, lock Nick Maurer and utility back Nick Sylor, acting as shepherds for the newbies.

“They’ve just both done a great job getting the team mentally prepared, leading by example and showing the guys how fit they need to be to compete throughout the season at the DI level.”