Usually when you mention “The Gaels” to someone around the rugby world in the United States, the powerful St. Mary’s of Moraga, California, one of the most dominant squads in collegiate rugby, comes to mind.
However in the last few years the “other” Gaels, those from Iona College in New Rochelle, have set out to change that. Rugby has long been a strong sport on the club level in and around New York and the surrounding countries, but rarely has there been huge success on the college level. In the last few years Fordham, playing again in the challenger bracket this year, has looked to step up its play and make the Penn Mutual CRC, but other than that, success on the collegiate rugby pitch has been hard to find around The Big Apple.
Now under head coach Bruce McLane and his staff, Iona’s Gaels are on the go, making their first appearance in the CRC this June. The turnaround, especially for sevens, has come about in the past few years, when Iona trustee and Rugby Hall of Fame member Dave McCabe saw the value sevens, now an Olympic sport, could bring to the school, especially with football being discontinued. McLane and assistant coach Billy O’Connell realized for this to happen they needed someone with sevens expertise, and turned to all American and former NYAC captain Paul Enright to oversee the sevens program. The result has been an influx of talent, and a skills improvement that makes Iona one of the dark horses of the deep CRC field.
The team is led by senior Mike Scarcella, a four time all conference, all American and Academic All American and three time team MVP. Sophomore Santi Mascolo, 2018 U 20 team member and Iona’s rookie of the year, freshman All American Connor Buckley and sophomore Bryce Stanback all lead the improved Gaels, who along with Life of Significance award finalist Matthew Crowe, will make other schools, and the rugby world, stand up and take notice that the east coast version of the Gaels are getting ready to give their west coast brethren a literal run for the money.
New York City has never been much of a college football town. Could it become a college rugby town? That’s what the Gaels and their leadership are trying to find out. This June would be a great next step.