#14 Notre Dame College is a young 5 year-old program that competes in the Rugby East Conference. Notre Dame College in Cleveland, Ohio is a quickly rising athletic powerhouse even though it is such a small school. Head coach Jason Fox demands a lot from his players and cares tremendously about this team. Assisting him is strength and conditioning coach, Alex Ludwig, who “does a tremendous job getting our guys fit to play physically and fast”.
Assistant men’s and head women’s team coach Luke Markovich “was instrumental last year but is creating a similar culture with the women’s program this year as their new head coach. He will bring the same expectations to the women’s program as he did last 2 years with the men’s program as assistant coach”. Also assisting is graduate assistant coach Tommy Walsh and pack coach Geoff Gainford, head coach of nearby Shaker Heights HS, who is a huge asset to the program.
Going 12-0 and winning the D1AA National Championship this May against UC-Davis, the Falcons were moved up to D1A. “We are really excited to play at this level. We play our style, our system, and each year is different and requires you to adapt. It’s all about taking one game at a time, week in and week out.”
“Being a small, liberal arts school we treat our players well. They are taken care of like NCAA athletes and the program is treated like a varsity one.”
With the program essentially being a varsity sport, there are high expectations for the players. “The culture we foster here for our players revolves around three processes. Self-accountability, respect to others, and discipline. That means being where you need to be, be that at film, early morning training, or captain’s runs.”
“We want our guys to be enjoying school, their teammates, and the atmosphere around them. Being respectful and working hard are just parts of it but we want them to just have a great experience. We want to compete at that higher level and it’s about all the factors working together.”
The program has a deeper level to it Fox explained. “One word that sticks with our team is Family. It’s a small campus, there are 23 sports clubs and programs here, so being able to hold your head high and be proud of your team – your family – that’s huge. We stress how important the idea of the team is, how it’s not even about the starting 15 or 23, but the entire squad.”
The Falcons toppled Army last weekend winning 31-26. Fox recalled some of the match, “three of Army’s tries were from mauls right outside the try zone. Their team is obviously in great shape but they had some dropped passes and we started to capitalize with some nice phases and put up three tries.”
Definitely have an eye out for fullback Marcus Tupuola, who played for the Collegiate All-Americans against Oxford earlier this September. Other Falcons to watch for are dynamic seniors Cory Graham, captain Cian Grendon, and co-captain/All-military Zackaree Forro, who will be doing humanitarian work in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fox stressed that he doesn’t like to highlight individuals because the integrity of rugby being a completely team sport. “Even some Man of the Match talk after games makes me feel a little uncomfortable, rugby is all about the aspect of playing with and for the guy next to you.”
Gearing up for future matches the Falcons have areas to improve. “Some things we need to work on is protecting the ball and retaining possession, along with getting lower in our tackles.” Fox stressed how important continuity with the team is and how that all comes down to discipline. “We’ve got a lot of new guys right now along with a new flyhalf, so we’re also really focusing on controlling the ball and not making dumb penalties. We want to dictate what we do on the field.”
The Falcons will take on the University of Buffalo this weekend, followed by American International College on October 12th.
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