Iona Men, Army Women Surprise at Collegiate Rugby Championships

Iona dropped football some time ago, but if this weekend is any indication, the precursor to American football, rugby, is making a strong push to dominate on the New Rochelle campus. The Gaels were the surprise men’s team of the weekend at Talen Energy Stadium outside Philadelphia, sweeping their pool play, which included a 14-12 upset of perennial rugby sevens powerhouse Kutztown, and a near upset of defending and eventual champion Lindenwood University of Missouri 19-7 on their way to a best-ever quarterfinal showing at the event, which was seen live on ESPN and before over 27,000 fans over the two days, a collegiate rugby tournament record.

In that quarterfinal against Lindenwood, Santi Mascolo put the Gaels up with Mascolo dotting down and converting the try himself. The defensive abilities of both teams delivered no more points in the first half, but Iona finally relented after Mascolo was lost to a yellow card in the second half, making way for a 12-0 Lions’ run. Iona had a promising possession with the chance to regain the lead at the death, but a ruck penalty ended the campaign. Regardless, their efforts during the week raised more than a few eyebrows on the national stage, and clearly showed rugby in New Rochelle is on the rise.

For the Army women, their continued ascent to the top of the rugby world got them to the tournament finals on Sunday before being overwhelmed  by the Lindenwood women 34-12.  Army, like Lindenwood, was a perfect 5-0 going into the final. They conceded points in one extra match, keeping a clean sheet through the quarterfinals. The Cadets were led by Sam Sullivan, the tournament’s leading scorer. Despite her team finishing runner-up, she was awarded MVP.

To reach the final, the Cadets had to go through former champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions answered the bell first when Azniv Nalbandian outran the field. At the restart, Penn State erred by kicking the ball into Army’s try zone, setting up a freekick at centerfield. As she did all weekend, Sullivan ran over and around several defenders to make it an even scoreline. Sullivan’s second try, coming at the close of the sixth minute, put Army on top, where they remained on halftime.

A yellow card to Elisha Fromstein just over a minute into the second half left the Nittany Lions a woman down for the early part of the half. A second yellow card for Penn State, this one shown to Darina Roe, made it five against seven. Naomi Colin’s try and the subsequent conversion by Bayleigh Gable made it 17–5 for the cadets. Completing her hat trick, Sullivan put Army too far in front for Penn State to catch up.

Fordham, which made its way into the main draw of the CRC for the first time this year drew a tough bracket, and never really got things on track during the two days, going winless in their group and in sub play on Sunday. However the Rams did get some impressive news, with senior Kraig Puccia winning the Penn Mutual “Athlete of Significance” award Puccia, a senior from Whitestone, NY, is a member of Fordham’s GO! (Global Outreach) Program and has gone to Bethel, Alaska to learn about issues of drug and alcohol abuse in the local community.

In preparation for the visit, he helped raise thousands of dollars in donations to aid programs in the Bethel community to combat drug and alcohol abuse. While in Alaska, Kraig primarily assisted the Tundra Women’s Coalition, which works to protect women in the community from their partners because of alcohol or drug-induced episodes that threaten their safety. He spent last year as a volunteer with the Domestic Violence Bureau at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. This summer, Kraig will continue his altruism working at the Veterans Advocacy Project through the Urban Justice Center doing pro-bono work for neglected veterans throughout New York City. Kraig is also a volunteer for the Bronx Italian-American History Initiative, which works to preserve the cultural past of various parts of the Bronx by collecting, recording, and archiving the stories of past residents.

The weekend really put a cap on local collegiate sports for the year. With Army football back in the fold, schools like Fordham in women’s basketball and Seton Hall, St. John’s Hofstra and FDU on the men’s side heading to March Madness, and the improved play on both the baseball and softball diamonds it was another exciting year for local student-athletes, one capped by a rising collegiate sport like rugby, which saw some great, and unprecedented success, to build on going forward.

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