J.V. Rugby Turning Heads

Two wins and one loss
Kevin Bunce Jr., an East Hampton High School freshman, fended off a tackler in last weekend’s jayvee 7s tournament in Pelham, N.Y. Meg Bunce

The junior varsity rugby 7s team that Kevin Bunce coaches fared well, he said, in a tournament in Pelham, N.Y., this past weekend, winning two and losing one.

“We shocked some people,” Bunce said during a conversation Monday at The Star. “These were good teams we played.”

But initially it was Bunce’s team that was shocked. “We were whomped 36-0 in our first game by French American Academy after a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride. It was kind of embarrassing, we weren’t paying attention, we were holding the ball on the ground. . . . We picked it up after that.”

“I’ve got a lot of ninth graders, but they’ve been playing together for a while and practicing with the men’s team at Herrick Park on Tuesday and Thursday nights. They have skills, they’re good. We picked it up in our second game, against Pelham High School. We beat them 18-10, and then we beat Thornton-Donovan 15-12.”

Five more tournament weekends loom, said Bunce, whose son, Kevin Jr., an East Hampton High School freshman, is on the team, as are Christian Soloviev, a Bonac sophomore who would have played football had East Hampton fielded a squad this fall, Craig and Jake Jablonski, sons of Mike Jablonski, a former Montauk Rugby Club player who lives in Mattituck, Jalal Sawas, Chris Vedder, and Tristan Costello, all of Shoreham-Wading River, and Mac Taylor and Connor Pearce, of Mount Sinai. Another Bonac sophomore, Devon Merrick, who Bunce said would have played football this fall, is to join the team this week.

“Most of our players are ninth graders. . . . But, as I said, they’re good. We turned it on against some good teams, teams that had a lot more kids than we did on the bench, but that’s actually better for us because all our kids get to play.”

“We go back to Pelham this week — most of the tournaments are there. Our last tournament is November 5th at Stony Brook University.”

Bunce, who, with Paul Cleary, proposed rugby as a viable contact sport alternative to football in these pages recently, said he was still hoping for recruits from the high school. “There are a lot of kids up there who’ve been in the weight room for three straight months getting ready for football who don’t know what to do. There are no intramurals. We’re hoping they’ll try rugby. They won’t know whether they like it or not until they play. I think it’s going to take off — every new kid who comes down to play likes it. They like the freedom of not having to put pads on, and they like it that they all can get the ball and run.” 

“We tell them to run until they’re taken down, and then to get the ball out to their teammates. Sevens is such a possession game. There’s a lot less kicking than in 15s. You keep on your feet and keep moving it and the next thing you know you’re in the try zone.”

As for the men’s squad, which plays in the Empire Geographical Union’s third division, “its numbers are down, but we’ve got some good young players on it — Brandon Johnson, Jordan Johnson, Axel Alanis, and George Calderon. Brandon and Axel are going to Suffolk Community now. Brandon plans to return to Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland after the new year, in time for their 7s season. They were the national 7s champs in Division III last spring. Josh King is a starting prop for A.I.C. [American International College in Springfield, Mass.] now. They’re ranked seventh in 15s. I’m hoping that maybe Axel can go to Stony Brook, where Jerry Mirro, who used to coach us in 7s, when we went to the national championships, is the coach.”

Rugby here, he reiterated, offered a springboard, because of his and other veteran coaches’ connections, to college scholarships, and to wide-ranging travel. 

“But first they have to be seen,” he added. In that regard, Bunce said he hopes to enter a college-age team in New York’s Thanksgiving weekend 7s tournament on Randalls Island. “When we go to these tournaments and the coaches see them, they’re all over these kids.”