By Kevin Perrington-Turner, Contributing Writer
REGION – The Algonquin Regional High School Boys Rugby team went undefeated to win a state championship July 1.
Reflecting on the year, players and coaches celebrated a triumph that actually traces its roots to days long before 2021.
Humble beginnings and team growth
Being one of the only schools in Central Mass to have such a program, Algonquin rugby started with a slow start in its first two years. Eventually, though, this ball club grew and elevated to new heights.
“This has been a build-up for four years,” said head coach Dominic McNeil. “The seniors this year, I’ve worked with them since they were freshman.”
“After their freshman year, I got them in a room, and I was like ‘If we don’t win a state championship by the time we’re seniors, it’s my fault,’” McNeil explained.
He continued, “I just knew the kind of talent and dedication and commitment these kids had. And they worked so hard over the last few years to get us home to a state championship.”
A year ago, COVID-19 disrupted the championship hopes of many Algonquin rugby players in the Class of 2020. Thankfully for McNeil, though, he still had a number of players with more fortunate timing in their graduations, finishing their high school careers in 2021.
“Then the whole season getting shut down was really devastating,” McNeil said.
“You just really feel bad for athletes who worked so hard at things like achieving state championships,” he continued. “I’m just so fortunate things worked out.”
Initially, when the season was allowed to begin, there were limitations. Students had to wear masks and, instead of 15 players on the field, other teams and committees pushed for seven. Nonetheless, McNeil and his team were eventually able to get back to a full 15-man team and nearly normal play.
Maturity on and off the field
From freshman to senior year, McNeil was able to see his team grow. Aside from winning the state championship, he was thankful to see players grow into young adults.
“I’m a teacher as well and that’s one of those most profound aspects of being a teacher,” he explained.
The road ahead for Algonquin rugby
One of McNeil’s many players who remains in the Algonquin rugby program for the long haul is Rugby Club President Edward Gostick.
Playing for his high school, Gostick also founded the Northborough Southborough Eagles team to teach local middle school students the game of rugby.
“It was a massive success,” he said of this month’s state championship victory.
“We got a whole load of underclassmen who’ve got a lot of experience,” he continued, citing the success of the Eagles youth program. “That meant our [whole] team, not only all of our starters, knew what they were doing.”
A state championship now written into the history books, Algonquin rugby is marching forward as Gostick, McNeil and others recruit new players and anticipate their state title defense next year.