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Dal rugby team sees future success in young core

After losing the maritime final, the team is looking back at their other achievements this season

The Dalhousie University men’s rugby team fought hard this season but came up short in the maritime championship against the University of New Brunswick, losing 24-15, on Nov. 17. 

This loss was only the division one team’s second loss all season, with the first also a result of coming up short against the UNB Ironmen. Going into the final, the Ironmen and the Tigers were tied 1-1 when going head to head. 

“I do think that it was a bit of a disappointment,” said Pat Spiteri, the team’s president. “Even though we came second this year, it just wasn’t a successful season.” 

This season was the first time in three years that the division one team didn’t go undefeated and win the Maritime Cup. 

The team wasn’t as strong as they would like to have been in the final game, missing a few injured players including Luke Van Dam, the team’s division one rookie of the year. However, Spiteri thinks there was more to the loss. 

“UNB capitalized really well on our mistakes,” said Spiteri. “I think it was just a game where UNB was really strong. They really wanted it and I don’t know if we fully matched their intensity.”

A young club

While making it almost as far as the Tigers have in recent seasons, this year’s Dal team was made up of a majority of players who were making their division one debut.

“[The team] was so young,” said Spiteri. “The experience they got this year was huge.”

One thing Spiteri was really impressed by was the chemistry between the players even though most of the group had never played a season altogether before.

“We’re all such good buddies and we have great team chemistry,” he said. “The effort level was good because nobody wants to let down their friends. I think this year, some inexperience showed, but I think the effort and chemistry could never be faulted.”

Van Dam, a rookie on the division one team, also felt this chemistry, especially between the rookies and the older players. 

“Myself, as well as the other rookies, were treated with a lot of respect and welcomed with open arms by all the veteran players,” said Van Dam. “I’m very appreciative of these guys and I would like to carry that feeling on for next year’s rookies.”

The young players also shined in parts of the game where Spiteri didn’t know they would, mainly on the rougher, defensive side. 

“I find, having just played with some younger guys, sometimes the defence is lacking… but every young guy picked up on it so quickly,” he said. “It was great to see that they weren’t [afraid] of any of that at all.”

Success off the field

Despite not meeting their goal of making it to the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship, the team did succeed in winning the interests of their fellow Dal students, another goal the executive team had for this season. 

“I think the rugby team is slowly starting to be integrated more with Dal’s culture,” said Spiteri. 

The team was able to draw in crowds, even in bad weather, and collaborated with societies to create more enticing events. 

One event Spiteri is especially proud of is the team’s Movember fundraiser, the product of a collaboration with Dal’s Women in Business Association, which the team wants to turn into a school-wide fundraiser in upcoming years. 

This social success is not just drawing in current students either. Spiteri recalls one game in which potential future student rugby players were impressed by the type of crowd the Tigers could draw in, unmatched by other schools they had seen. 

“It’s doing a lot to make them love Halifax and realize that Dal could be a great school for rugby,” said Spiteri. 

Moving forward

Regardless of their other accomplishments, the team is still chasing the win they missed out on this season. 

“I think that there’s a lot to look forward to, but I think there’s also a big chip on our shoulder now,” said Spiteri. “We used this year to get better and we’re going to keep going up from here.”

The fourth-year student will be returning next season to his role as president of the team after winning the Clubsman of the Year award at the team’s end-of-season banquet. 

“It was great that they thought I did a good job in the role that I had and hopefully next year I can do an even better job,” he said in response to getting the award. 

Other awards went to Evan Logan, the team’s captain, and Mitch Ross, who were named the most valuable players of the division one and two teams respectively. Shane Brandsetter was named the division two Rookie of the Year, while Dylan Hickey and Marek Khella were named the most improved players. The Coaches Award went to Sam Carrabain. 

“I am already looking forward to next year a lot, knowing we have some great recruits coming in next year and our team gets another year of playing together,” said Van Dam, the winner of the other Rookie of the Year Award. “This award has just motivated me to keep working hard this offseason and I can’t wait for next year.”

The team’s goal for next season is still to be the Atlantic team going to Nationals. “We want to be there,” said Spiteri. “We think we should be.”

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