Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 18, 2013

Teams open season with Cherry Pit Rugby tourney

By JAMES COOK jcook@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — With the Cherry Pit done, it's time to move on for both the Traverse Bay Blues and Traverse City Alliance.

And both have big plans.

The Alliance — playing with a team of alumni — posted a 1-1 record and the Blues were 0-2 Saturday at the Cherry Pit Rugby Tournament at the Civic Center.

The Blues opened up with a 12-0 loss to Central Michigan University, and dropped a 43-0 decision with eventual champion Third Halfers, a team comprised of players from Kalamazoo and the Tri-Cities.

"We had a few players that were missing and some key subs that I was hoping we were going to have," coach Matt Szatkiewicz said. "But I definitely saw some good positives — ball movement, good play by several of our new players.

"We will continue to use what we saw out there (Saturday). We will continue building, continue to make improves on stuff. That shoudl be expected. That's one of the advantages of having this tournament, is it lets me see how the guys are going to come together. But they played hard, and that's what I was really proud of. It's something we can build off."

The Blues travel to Kalamazoo next Saturday to kick off a nine-game fall season. They return for a Sept. 7 home game against Michigan.

The Alliance topped Michigan State — which combined with Oakland University — 31-22 in its first contest, then fell to Grand Rapids 17-5. After that game, Grand Rapids would forfeit the championship to the Third Halfers due to injuries.

"We were really impressed with how we played together, coming together from different angles," said Alliance coach Chuck Benson, who assisted with player/coach Cornel Olivier. "Jared Belovich, his father came out and played prop as well. That was kind of cool.

"Normally, we play at the high school level. And yet we really were pretty darn good. ... These kids are coming from all kinds of universities and playing. So I think we played pretty well. We got together, we had good camaraderie and there was some talk of us getting together to get some other combined Alliance events as a team. We didn't even practice — not one time."

The high school Alliance team had 23 players this spring and lost just five of those.

"We've got a big return factor coming up," Benson said. "And I know we've got a bunch of boys coming up this year."

Benson said the Alliance program may also have a sevens team for the first time this fall, playing mainly against Grand Rapids-area schools. Any players interested in playing can contact Benson at 342-5085.

He also said the team is going to have its own field this year, gaining permission from a homeowners association to use a piece of land to the west of Wuerfel Park in Blair Township.

First-year player Drew Gary said the experience was a great one.

"I love it," Gary said. "Our team is one of a kind. They're all inspirational. And when you're down, they help you get right back up. They're the greatest."

The 2012 Traverse City St. Francis 2012 grad played in four games — two each for the Blues and Alliance alumni — mostly on the outside wing. He had two assists on tries.

"Our team fought hard, but we didn't come back with a trophy this year," Gary said. "But we gave it our all and had a blast. And that's all that counts, really. Now we're just focused on our real season and looking forward to giving it to Kalamazoo."

In other scores, Grand Rapids defeated MSU 50-0, the Third Halfers crushed CMU 71-12 and Michigan won the "Old Boys" 35+ match 67-14 over Traverse City.