By Tom Peticca
Assistant Features Editor
On Nov. 6, the Sacred Heart men’s rugby team, also known as the X-Men, won their first ever Tri-State Conference Championship with a 32-12 victory over William Patterson University.
“Today is the greatest day of my life,” said senior Michael Kiesel, after winning the championship game on Sunday.
The win not only brought the X-Men their first conference title, but also capped off the first undefeated season in the program’s history.
“In the Sacred Heart spirit, I feel like a pioneer for the sport of rugby,” said senior and captain Jason Libertelli. “It’s been a long four year journey, but we’re finishing off as conference champs.”
Senior and team president Chris Coyne said that winning the championship is huge for the team as a whole. The win will be beneficial to every player, coach and advisor of the team.
This win was especially big for the seniors who went 1-7 during their freshmen season.
“We’ve made huge strides over the last 4 years,” said Coyne. “As a senior to go undefeated and win the conference, it’s truly an awesome feeling to have accomplished this for the team and the university as a whole.”
The X-Men had to make some moves going into the championship game after losing two of their starting players, Matt Calton and Pat Walpole, to injuries. Calton suffered from a concussion while Walpole tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“We had two key injuries with Pat and Matt going down,” said Libertelli. “Matt’s been playing the game a long time and his expertise is needed, and Pat is the heart of this team. If everyone played like him we would be national champions, we had to win it for those guys.”
One of the many players that stepped up for the X-Men was junior Ellis Badger, who switched positions for the championship game. He played scrum half for the first time.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into it but about five minutes into the game I found my routine and it became second nature from there,” said Badger, who normally plays fullback. “It’s much different, much more in the action, touching the ball a lot more”
Despite Ellis’s inexperience at scrumhalf, he thrived throughout the game.
“Ellis stepped up and played Matt’s position very well,” said Libertelli. “He was among a bunch of the young guys that stepped up for us in a big way”
The 32-12 win in the Tri-State Conference finals gives the X-Men an opportunity that no team in their history has had at a division two national championship. The team travels down to South Carolina in two weekends for a game against Furman University in the first round of the national playoffs.
“Oh man, South Carolina is going to be exciting, playing some of the best teams on the east coast,” said Libertelli. “It’s going to be over a 10 hour bus ride, but I don’t even care. I’m so excited. It’s going to be a great challenge for the X-Men rugby squad.”
No Tri-State Conference champion has ever made it past the first round in the national playoffs. The X-Men are looking forward to their shot at changing that.
“I’m really excited to play some top tier rugby,” said Coyne.“The teams that are left are the 16 best division two teams in the country. I can’t wait to play against them.”
The X-Men take their shot at nationals on Nov. 19.