Kiski Valley rugby ready for quarterfinal test

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Friday, May 11, 2018 | 10:09 PM


Kiski Valley backs captain Andrew Bigler is someone who likes to look forward, but it's not easy for him to forget how last season ended.

If Bigler or any of his teammates happen to put it out of their memory, Kiski Valley rugby coach Seth Erwin doesn't hesitate to rehash the 31-25 quarterfinal playoff loss to Kutztown at home that ended their 2017 season.

“They're reminded about how last year ended, maybe too much, but they are not forgetting about it,” Erwin said.

The loss has been a motivator to get back to the postseason, and after clinching their fourth consecutive section title with a 29-12 win over Hollidaysburg/Blair United two weeks ago, the Titans are ready to make amends in the playoffs.

Kiski Valley (4-2) hosts Carlisle in the Rugby PA Club Division II quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Kiski Area. The winner advances to the semifinals next weekend in Cumberland Valley.

“It does help us knowing how bad it hurt when we lost last year,” Bigler said. “We don't want that to happen again this year, so we've been practicing hard to prepare. We want to travel out to Cumberland Valley next weekend to play in a state semifinal and hopefully the finals.”

Added team captain Luke Larko: “It's a huge motivation not to repeat that result. We've been working hard all year to make sure that doesn't happen again. It was a real bummer.”

The quarterfinal round hasn't been kind to Kiski Valley. In 2015, the Titans lost a home match to West Chester to go along with last year's defeat. When Kiski Valley won the state title in 2016 it had an automatic bid to the semifinals.

Erwin feels his team is playing well heading into Sunday's match, and they're mostly healthy, which at times hasn't been the case this season. Both factors have him feeling optimistic.

“I think our team has a different mentality coming into the playoffs this year,” Erwin said. “They know that anyone we play is going to be a good team, so they have to prepare to be at their best.”

Kiski Valley had a rash of injuries midway through the schedule, with key contributors like David Schuffert, Hayden Wright and Bigler having to miss matches. A couple of times the Titans entered a match with only one or two subs.

Erwin said everyone is available for Sunday except Guy Kane and Luke Hansberry, who are both out for the season.

“It was a teaching experience for us,” Larko said about playing shorthanded. “Everyone stepped up their playing time to fill in. We all had to stay on the field longer. At one point we had one sub, but everyone stuck it out and played to the best of their abilities.”

Larko, a senior, was a starter on the 2016 state championship team as a sophomore. He showed the toughness of a rugby player earlier this season when he was kneed in the face while trying to defend the goal line in a match against North Pitt United. Larko had blood pouring out of his nose and had to go to the sidelines. He quickly stuffed a couple of pieces of gauze up his nose to stop the bleeding and returned to the game a couple minutes later.

Larko had two trys in the win against Hollidaysburg/Blair United and was at the center of preventing several try attempts on defense.

“Luke was a force against Hollidaysburg,” Erwin said. “He was all over the place for us. It was incredible. He always plays that way, and as a captain I hold him to a higher standard, but he was head and shoulders above everyone else in that match. He was that good.”

The Titans will rely on the experience that many of them gained coming through the junior ranks, as well as having two seasons of varsity under their belt. Many of them are underclassmen outside of Frank Poydence and Larko.

Another key will be cohesiveness and spreading the field.

“When we get everyone involved, that's when we're at our best,” Bigler said. “We can't have only one person trying to do it all and get tired. When you get tired you end up creating gaps on defense. We need to spread the ball around, get everyone touches, make sure everyone makes their tackles and roll from there.”

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