by Mark Schmetzer, Cincinnat Enquirer Contributor, Scott Springer photo
As in other sports, Moeller-St. Xavier rugby matches usually generate more intensity than their encounters with other teams.
Bomber senior co-captain Joseph Wendt, who also has played football and wrestled, has plenty of comparisons.
"The goal in every single sport is to beat Moeller," Wendt said Tuesday. "This year is our best chance to beat them, at least in my four years."
Wendt and his teammates will have to wait until May 8 to log what would be the program's first-ever win over the arch-rival Crusaders. Moeller has what shapes up to be a more difficult task on Friday, when the dangerous Lakota Jets visit the Montgomery Road school for a 6 p.m. match.
The result will likely go a long way toward determining the champion of Rugby Ohio's Division I Southern Conference boys' championship. Moeller is 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference, first-year coach Steve Kuhlman. Lakota - a multi-school program with players from both Lakota East and Lakota West - is 2-0-0 overall and 1-0-0 in the conference with senior Grant Smith leading the Jets in scoring, according to the Rugby Ohio website.
The top four teams in each of Ohio Rugby's two high school divisions qualify for the post-season tournament, St. Xavier coach John Spencer said. Spencer considers Moeller to be the favorite to win the division with Lakota close behind, but he also feels his Bombers - who are 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the conference - are close to becoming a contender.
"We have a nice team," said Spencer, a 1977 St. Xavier graduate whose team is coming off a 40-0 loss to defending national champion Gonzaga of Washington, D.C. "We started with 17 guys in 2011. Now we have three teams and a total of about 75 guys. We keep getting a little better each year."
Moeller also has a "B" team that plays in Ohio Rugby's Division 2 Region 4, which covers Southwest Ohio. The Westside Warriors, a multi-school team, are tied with Walnut Hills for second in the division, both with 5-3-0 division records. The Crusaders "B" team is 0-8-0, according to the website.
Kuhlman, who played on the Crusaders team that won the state championship in the program's second year of existence in 2010, likes the "talent and drive" of his "A" Cruasaders. Sophomore Jacob Gall, a football offensive lineman, is Moeller's leading scorer.
The emergence of players such as Gall are examples of the growth of high school rugby, which is not sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
"It has gotten a lot bigger," Kuhlman said. "When I was playing there were very few teams and you had to travel a lot to find competition. Since year one, our program and the community have gotten bigger and bigger. We've grown from 35-40 guys to 80. That's impressive."
Rugby has been around much longer at St. Xavier, said Spencer, who was on the original multi-school team back in 1976.
"We started with 17 kids," he said. "We called it St. Xavier, but the administration didn't know it. Once they found out, we became North Bend Rugby real quick. We had kids from St. Xavier, La Salle, Elder, Colerain - I know we had a guy from Mason."
The school since has recognized rugby as a varsity sport. That was a significant step. The next one would be logging that elusive win over Moeller.
"It's a good rivalry," Kuhlman said. "They've constantly gotten better. They're very well-coached and a solid team. We've bested them every year, but every year, they give us a good game." [Read More]