BY JAMES COOK
— TRAVERSE CITY — As the Traverse Bay Blues head into their 40th year, the rugby club is ramping up its schedule.
The Blues will have a new league alignment this year, with Grand Rapids and Toledo moving down from Division 2 to the Midwest East-North Division 3 Conference. The other squads in that league are Flint, Tri Cities, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo, and each will make an appearance in Traverse City in the next year as part of the conference’s new home-and-home format.
Club president Tony Dell’aqua said the team’s slate of 12 games will not only mean more formidable foes, but it’ll also mean more in plain numbers.
After USA Rugby changed things up, Division 3 become much more competitive. Some teams that didn’t travel well — and frequently forfeited road games due to lack of players — were sent down to Division 4.
The season officially opens Aug. 24 at the Kalamazoo Dogs, who advanced to the Division 3 national quarterfinals last year.
“We’re certainly going to have our hands full playing against them,” head coach Matt Szatkiewicz said.
Training for the season starts Aug. 1 with a 6:30-8:30 session at the Franke Road field. The team has about 25 players for the upcoming season, but anyone is welcome to come to the session and give the sport a try, Szatkiewicz said.
“We really encourage everyone to come on out if they’re interested in a full-contact sport that is one of the more exciting sports int he U.S.,” Szatkiewicz said. “It kind of combines to constant activity of basketball and hockey and soccer with the added benefit of being able to hit and tackle people. Definitely, it is one of the more dynamic sports you’re going to experience. We tell all of our new players that if they can stick with the practices and actually participate in a game, very few then don’t stick with the sport.”
Seventh-year player Dave Wenkel returns as the team’s captain, joined by veterans such as Josh Benghauser, Derek Counsilor, Jim Turnbull, Mike Amon, Nick Pfropper, Jason Kreta, Champ Bodell and Ryan Fortune.
Prior to that official opener, the Blues will host the Cherry Pit Tournament on Aug. 17 at the Civic Center. The event typically features eight teams playing on two pitches, and starts at 9 a.m.
“It’s a great opportunity for a lot of our younger guys and newer guys to play a match before our league starts, so that they can see what it’s all about and see everything we’ve been practicing and working on and building on kind of come together in a match as well,” Szatkiewicz said.
On addition to this year’s Cherry Pit is an “Old Boys” division with teams of players over 35. “There will be some true veterans playing out there on the pitch,” Szatkiewicz said.
The Cherry Pit is preceded by the team’s annual golf fundraiser at Mistwood Golf Course on Aug. 16.
2013 Traverse Bay Blues fall schedule
Aug. 17 Cherry Pit Rugby Tournament
Aug. 24 @ Kalamazoo Dogs
Sept. 21 Tri Cities Barbos
Sept. 28 @ Flint Rouges
Oct. 5 Toledo Celtics
Oct. 12 Grand Rapids Gazelles
Oct. 19 @ Grand Rapids Gazelles
Oct. 26 @ Toledo Celtics
Nov. 2 Flint Rouges
Nov. 9 @ Tri Cities Barbos