06.02.2023 - Lessons Rugby Teaches: Berks Shakes Off Big Loss at HSNC

Berks County Rugby knew they were up against it at the HS National Championships. Tracked into Tier II, they nonetheless understood they were carrying injuries—their front row had been hit especially hard. Coupled with the fact that the team and the program had never been to the national championship before, they were headed for trouble.

And they found it. A bigger, more powerful, fairly healthy Kansas City Junior Blues team put 57 on Berks in a 57-3 drubbing on Day One.

So here’s the chance now to just throw in the towel. What does it matter? They’re not going to win Tier II, or even come close. Might as well just go through the motions.

Instead they responded.

The coaching staff decided their team backed off contact on Day One, so they had their warmup on Day Two be contact, wrapping up and making their first hits before the game started.

“We had to rest all night and think about what we did and the game yesterday,” Berks center Jake Stelluti said on the Friday. “We just came out pissed off just the second we woke up this morning. We were mad during warmups … we just wanted to come out and hit and play hard.”

“We really had to think about it as a team,” added back rower Colby Orndorf. “What are we here for, what are we here to show was Berks is, and that definitely wasn’t it.”

Did it work? Well, Raleigh opened up a 10-0 lead and it seemed like maybe the Berks team would crater right then and there.

“We had a little team meeting,” added flyhalf Matt Cleland. “And we’re saying ’if we go down, just keep on playing. This is usually what happens; first half isn’t ours and in the second half we’ll come on.”

The thing about Berks is their game is a somewhat high-risk, high-reward game. Despite seeing key player Baylor Kobularcik out with a shoulder injury, they played that way and didn’t curl up into a shell of conservative rugby.

With Ulices Ramirez scoring three tries and every player working hard, they beat Raleigh to make the 5th-6th game. Yes they lost Penn in that final match, but the game was hugely competitive and Penn prevailed 34-17.

“First off, they had an incredible time at Nationals,” said Head Coach Greg Stelluti. “It was rough after the first game but for the second game they were locked in. By the time we left the players felt like they belonged there and should have done better. We didn’t have our two biggest forwards and we had Baylor for only one half. But they definitely grew as a team.”

Why play rugby in high school and college? Because life isn’t fair; life can be difficult; life can bring setbacks. The Berks performance in Elkhart, especially on the Friday, is an example of how playing this sport can not only teach, but offer chances for young players to show how much they’ve learned.