The Fenwick High School sports rivalry with St. Ignatius is big enough.
For the Friars Rugby Football Club, its meeting with the Wolfpack Friday, May 8 at Elmhurst College has huge implications.
Friars Rugby Football Club president and head coach Bill Mahon believes that the winner of this third-place match in the Chicago Catholic Rugby Conference tournament should receive an at-large berth to the eight-team, Division 1 Rugby Illinois state tournament.
“Add that extra bit to it, I’m sure it’s going to be a very hard-fought game,” Mahon said.
“In all of the other sports, (Fenwick and St. Ignatius) are very strong, natural rivals. Even if we were playing for nothing, there would be a great deal of desire and intensity to beat St. Ignatius. I’m sure St. Ignatius feels the same way.”
This is the fourth season of Fenwick rugby, the football-style sport in which teams are awarded five points for a try (getting the ball across the goal line) and two points with a successful conversion kick. Rugby Illinois, known formally as the Illinois Youth Rugby Association, was established in 2007.
There are roughly 45 players among Fenwick’s three teams. Thirteen are seniors, including Jack Elliott and Jack Mackie – the only players who have been a part of all four seasons – and Chris Hawthorne, their lone returning all-conference player. There are about 10 players each from the other three grade classes.
“Obviously, the goal is to continue to grow with freshmen,” Mahon said. “If you look at next year, we’ll have a dozen kids graduate and have played four straight years. The numbers are continually growing. Probably the best, true way to learn is to play and get exposure to it.”
There are three divisions or tiers of Illinois varsity rugby. The Friars have reached the state tournament their first three years with last season their first in Division 1, the top group. The Friars lost their 2014 playoff opener 32-29 to the Waubonsie Valley Chiefs, the eventual state champions. In Division 2, they finished second in 2013 and third in 2012.
There are 13 varsity Division I teams in three conferences. The top two teams in each conference advance to the state tournament, along with two at-large berths.
This is the second year of the five-team CCRC with Brother Rice, Mt. Carmel, St. Ignatius and St. Rita. Fenwick nearly reached the tournament championship game Thursday but lost its semifinal to Mt. Carmel 22-19 on a last-second try. The Friars overcame a 15-0 deficit, closing to 15-14 by halftime and pulling ahead 19-15 before the Caravan pressed the final five minutes.
During the regular season, the teams tied 24-24 with the Friars getting a try on the very last play but missing the conversion to win.
“These teams are dead even, evenly matched,” Mahon said.
Fenwick’s regular-season victory was 12-7 over St. Rita April 1. The Friars lost 39-17 to Brother Rice, one of the state’s strongest teams, April 21 and St. Ignatius 20-7 in the March 29 season opener.
“We feel like we did not play our best in that first game at Ignatius,” Mahon said.
The Fenwick junior varsity (1-4) and freshman/sophomore (2-1) teams also are eligible for postseason play, but there are only four tournament berths at those levels and 13 JV Division I and 12 freshman/sophomore teams. Last year’s JV team won its Division title, the Friars’ first championship at any level.
If the varsity does not qualify for its state tournament, the Friars could continue playing in an additional tournament.
“We’ll have to decide as a team what approach to take,” Mahon said. “It just depends on the number of interest. Hopefully we don’t have to gauge it.”