Kiski Valley rugby gets boost from Buckheads transfers

Thursday, March 28, 2019 | 11:04 PM

Kiski Valley boys rugby coach Seth Erwin was already excited about the group he had returning from a team that was the state runner-up last year, and then he received some news in the offseason that made his roster even stronger.

The Burrell Buckheads decided to suspend their team for this season because of lack of numbers, and several experienced players that were on that team made the move over to Kiski Valley.

While Erwin was disappointed to hear the Buckheads wouldn’t be fielding a team, the additions give him what he described as the deepest team he’s ever had, with 18 of the 24 players being seniors.

“This will be the most complete rugby-oriented team from the top down that we’ve ever had,” Erwin said. “It’s really the first time we’ve had a deep bench. Usually on our bench we have a player that’s just starting out that’s really athletic but has no idea about rugby. Now guys coming off the bench have been five- or six-year players and have played in a state championship. It’s crazy when we’re setting the lineup looking at the experience we have.”

Kiski Valley is off to a 2-0 start with wins over Moon and Blackthorn.

R.J. Beach and Luke Kastelic are two of the former Buckheads who became Titans. Both of them played in juniors with Kiski Valley where they appeared in two consecutive junior state title games. They’ve assimilated right back into the program.

“It kind of feels like I’m back at home again with my family,” Beach said. “The boys are back together again, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m looking forward to seeing our team progress through the year.”

Beach and Kastelic were big parts of the Buckheads’ 21-19 upset over Kiski Valley two years ago in the “Battle of the Valley” game that was played from 2013-17.

Beach said they’ve joked with Erwin about that result a few times.

“We mess with him sometimes,” Beach said. “He laughs about it. There isn’t any hate there. It’s all love. We just mess around.”

Kiski Valley is loaded with veterans with returners Andrew Bigler, David Schuffert, Brent Hrobak, Matt Ashbaugh, Cam Taylor, Ricky Feroce, Austin Micko and Hayden Wright. Bigler is the captain. Ashbaugh and Wright are vice captains.

The Titans topped Moon, 43-28, two weeks ago and shut out Philadelphia-area club Blackthorn, 43-0, last Sunday at IUP.

Bigler had four trys against Moon and three against Blackthorn. He was nominated for Rugby PA Player of the Week in Week 1.

Bigler is a senior at Burrell, but has been with the Titans since he started playing rugby in middle school. He’s happy to have some of his classmates joining him for his final season.

“I was really excited when I found out, because I know a lot of them already,” Bigler said. “We have good chemistry in other sports and to take that chemistry out there for rugby makes it even better.

“Most of the people that came over have already played rugby for five or six years and then most of the guys that were already here have been playing since we were freshmen. I’d say 90 to 95 percent of the guys on our team have played rugby for three or more years. It’s good to have that experience, especially when rugby is a new sport for a lot of teams.”

All that experience has made for competitive practices. Erwin splits the team and coaching staff up, and they have friendly competitions on which coaches can get their side to play better.

“Our practices have been really intense,” Beach said. “It’s probably some of the hardest rugby I’ve had at the high school level.”

Kiski Valley plays in Club Division II and is in the Allegheny Conference with Hollidaysburg and Indiana. If the Titans win the conference they get an automatic berth to the postseason and take one step toward winning the club’s second state title. They can also make it on points if they don’t win the state title.

Hollidaysburg has a two-time All-American in Gus Dillinger, and Erwin expects that to be a tough match.

“All of their seniors started when my seniors started,” Erwin said. “They have an advantage with Gus and some really good supplemental players. It’ll come down to who makes the least mistakes.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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