The Medina boys rugby club has come a long way in three years.
From a squad that scored just three times in its first season to this year’s team that is one of the top in Division II, Region 2, it’s been a 180-degree turnaround.
“It’s fantastic,” said Stephen Miller, who coaches the team with Bob Meholif. “It’s been a great experience to see these guys grow.”
The program has gone from a mere 18 players just learning the sport to a full roster that has 12 returning starters, five of whom are in their third season.
It starts with a backline that is one of the best in the region.
From its speed to its strength, the backs are one of the reasons for the Bees’ optimism, led by returning starters Cooper Graham and Grant Morgan. Graham is a versatile outside center, while Morgan, who led the team with 63 points last spring, will play fly-half and handle all the kicking duties.
“With those two alone, it’s an upgrade is speed from last year,” Miller said. “Because of our experience now, we can get a lot more done instead of just basic passing and running.”
That power continues with the forwards as tight head prop Joe Buchtinec is expected to set the tone for each game, while Cullen Barlka will play the 8-man position and be what Miller calls the “enforcer.”
“If we ever had a year (to make a run), this is the year,” Miller siad. “We expect to make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Here’s a look at the area’s five rugby teams:
Coach: Brian Williams (2nd season).
Last year: 5-4, independent in Division III.
Key returning players: Seniors — Ryan O’Dell, Garrick Koermer, Brent Janik, Brady Young, Andrew Videgar, Andrew Dukles, Clay Guddy, Nate Hunter, Triston Wasil. Juniors — Ryan Koehl, Nick Altman, Nathan Acevedo, Chaz Annach, Drew Annach, Zach Bayer, Chad Cathcart, Logan Hendrock, Chris Marusa, Adam Pryatel, Joey Webster, Justin Willete. Sophomores —– Tony Angelino, Nick Gati, Tyler Graham, Tom Paden, Ben Renfro.
Top newcomers: Seniors — Dan Roginsky, Austin Monyak, Dylan Rief, Gordon Foust. Juniors — Jake Roginsky, Cody Pratts. Sophomore — Tom Knuff, Logan Pratts.
Noteworthy: After playing in D-III last spring, the Blue Devils will be competing in the D-II Upper Division this season.
• Physical play will be a trademark of this year’s squad, led by returning forwards O’Dell, Koermer, Videgar, Koehl and Young. O’Dell and Videgar have already committed to play for Notre Dame College.
• Janik and Wasil, who both starred for the school’s soccer team, will pace a deep backline.
Coach: Fred Warmbrodt (13th season).
Last year: 6-8, 6-4 in Division II, Region 2 Upper Division.
Key returning players: Seniors — Mark Vitko, Josh Harris, T.J. Kosek. Junior — Christian Petek.
Top newcomers: Seniors — Logan Gsellman, Anthony Kisiday, Rick Monroe, Alex Stanley. Juniors — Matt Gienger, Tyler Gienger, Dan Gold.
Noteworthy: Vitko was the most valuable forward for the Buzzards a year ago after leading the team in tries. The 12th-grader will join Josh Harris as co-captain. Petek is slated to lead the backline.
• Monroe, Stanley and Kisiday attend Buckeye. Monroe and Stanley were football standouts, while Kisiday played football and was a district-qualifying wrestler.
• Twins Matt and Tyler Gienger will provide depth at the forward position. Both played football at Highland.
Co-coaches: Stephen Miller (2nd season)/Bob Meholif (3rd season).
Last year: 4-5, 3-2 in Division II, Region 2 Lower Division.
Key returning players: Seniors — Joey Buchtinee, Cooper Graham, Austin McNeely, Nate Albright, Tyler Rieg, Garrett Lester, Caleb Johnston, Preston Kuhn, Austin Brooks, Tim Shoemaker. Juniors — Grant Morgan, Cullen Barelka.
Top newcomers: Seniors — Anthony Selick, Brandon Flemming, Tyler Bigus, Terah Yisreal, Vince Miller. Junior — Alexander Eggleston. Sophomore — James Long III. Freshmen — Gabriel Baumgartner, Brandon Hudak.
Noteworthy: Graham’s apprentice at outside center will be Baumgartner. According to Miller, the freshman is similar to Graham in his ability to do several different things on the field and is a menacing tackler.
• The Bees lost to area rival Highland in the regional semifinals a year ago.
• Recent Medina All-Ohio selection SeBastian DiRienzo will serve as an assistant.
Coach: Nicole Incandela (1st season).
Top newcomers: Seniors — Kourtney Thomas, Nicole Rouge, Jennifer Novak, Kristina Monkowski, Elizabeth Katona, Shannon Egan, Gabriella Borsellino, Hannah Baier. Juniors — Alexandra Spartano, Melanie Miller, Kree McMonigle, Rachel Lash, Alex Hulvalchick. Sophomore — Brittani Stickrod, Shelby Spencer, Nicole Reis, Brooke Hensley. Freshmen — Ashleigh Shalica, Brienna Reed, Brittany Moore, Alliya Miller, Darian Lee, Andreya Kopy Alexandra Incorvaia, Marissa Hecker Olivia Francis, Angelina Centa, Amanda Johnovich.
Noteworthy: The Blue Devils enter their first year as a club with 29 girls on the roster.
• Incandela, a 2005 Brunswick graduated, played soccer at the school before picking up the sport of rugby while attending Ashland University, where she played 4½ years at prop and fullback.
Coach: Brigitte Ford (3rd season).
Last year: NA
Key returning players: Seniors — Sara Durbin, Claire Courson, Kelly Ciryak, Abbey Meyer, Devon Barr, Chalee Fronk, Halle Lombardi, Jackie Allen. Juniors — Laura Smith, Emma Saul, Kassidie Laurenti, Hannah Friedrick. Sophomore — Abby Dutt.
Top newcomers: Senior — Leah Casey, Sierra Belt. Freshmen — Rachel Ridgeway, Lauren Sisouphanh, Sarah Double, Hannah Parker.
Noteworthy: With Medina not fielding a team this season, the Buzzards picked up seven additional players. The team also has members from Cloverleaf, Kingsway Christian, Wadsworth and Walsh Jesuit.
• Saul has made the transition from forward to the backline this season, while Double has picked up the game quickly in her first year, according to Ford.
• Allen will serve as the team’s captain. The Wadsworth resident has been playing for the club for the last five years.
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.