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Year In Review - Head Coach Mark Morris
Hello Alumni and USC Rugby Supporters,
I hope your spring was as enjoyable as the one we just finished here with the USC Men’s Rugby Team. Especially, the final push towards Nationals. This would have not been possible without the generous monetary help of all the Olde Boys and Families that stepped up to help in our travel to the SEC Championship and The Sweet Sixteen. Again, thanks to all that donated and to everyone that cheers us on and backed the club with your support as well as dollars.
Spring 2013 proved to be a special season here at USC. Many victories, lots of awards and lots of recognition for several of our players. Just to give you some background, I remember my first year as Head Coach back in the Fall of 2011, undefeated friendly season against all the ACC teams and beating Clemson twice in the same month. It was great to be on top but then a year goes by and it is the Fall of 2012 after losses to NC State and ECU we were at a crossroad of playing social rugby again or start tightening the program to make a change to be more competitive. I knew we had the talent, although it was young, but I was tired of losing to teams we should easily beat. The Coaches and I gave the team a choice, play competitive rugby or just for fun. Luckily the young team wanted to be better and voted to put in the work needed to succeed at a higher level. So, starting last November 2012 we recommitted ourselves to becoming better as a team. We went on to win what was probably the last Palmetto State Championship and barely lost 15-18 to Division II finalist, Charleston during
our Clubs 45th Anniversary Weekend and COB Reunion.
The spring season was fun, hard and exciting. We continued to push the team in their conditioning and then ran them some more. We had to be ready for Florida, our first game in only a few weeks. The club was ready and we played an excellent game against the defending 2012 SEC Champs. After the game the other coaches and I knew we had a great shot of going all the way.
We took each of the next 5 games one at a time and prepared for each as a stepping stone to our goals. As the victories kept coming we continued to work harder. After the LSU game I was so excited by the boys play I could hardly talk, which is a first for me. I’ve never seen a USC team play any harder than that game. We continued to roll on playing Kentucky away. I started several reserve players in this game to see what we had in depth and was really excited about everyone stepping up to perform and prepare for the end of season playoffs.
Now the sites are set on last game of the season with Tennessee. We both are undefeated and playing great. The game was tough, we spotted Tennessee 2 tries in first 5 minutes of game but came back to score 28 unanswered points to make it 28-10 at 63 minutes mark in the game. Tennessee never gave up and answered with 4 tries to come back for a 34-28 win. Even though we lost I knew we could beat them.
The SEC Championship was next. With our budget spent on the regular season and no funds left in the account we went to COB, family and supporters to help fund the trip. Thankfully our Olde Boys and the COB Foundation stepped up and raised the funds necessary for the trip. Again, thank you for all your donations, the team is so proud of your support and commitment to the Club.
In the first game we faced LSU again. Twice in same season, could we do it? The team played a great game and we came out on top again to face Tennessee in Final. Unlike our first meeting we came out scoring and held Tennessee for most of the game. We even had a couple of tries called back by the referee. Although we dominated most of the game, several sin bins and injuries started to take its toll and their pack and the referee controlled the last 20 minutes of the game. We let another one slip away.
Now it is time to focus on the Nationals Sweet Sixteen. On the road again without time to raise funds for the trip our Carolina Olde Boys through the Carolina Foundation and parents of players came through again and stepped-up to fund the trip with their donations of funds for hotels, gas, vans and food. The team and coaches cannot express enough gratitude to everyone that is behind us as we push the barriers of what USC Rugby can become.
USC, Clemson, our first opponent, Tennessee and eventual D1-AA National Champion University of Central Florida all arrived with a National Championship on their minds. We all felt we had a chance to move on. The Clemson game was very upsetting for me. Although we controlled the ball the majority of the game and kept it in their end we could not find the try line. On two occasions we were on their 5 or 10 meter line going in and knock on or drop the ball only to have them return it for a quick try. No excuses for the conditions, it was pouring and field was wet as I ever have been allowed to play on. We just couldn’t find our footing or hold on to the ball. That was a hard loss to take considering our winning streak back to 2007 against them. After the game, all I could tell the boys was to remember how the loss felt because I do not want to experience it again. I also told them I needed to see what they were made of with the consolation game against Tennessee the next day. I knew we could beat them if they played well but challenged them to not let them beat us again. This would be the team’s redemption for a great season. I could not be any happier with a solid win versus Tennessee on Sunday to close out the season and the best for me was to play every reserve that worked hard through all the finals, some that did not play any minutes in the 3 other play-off games. Reflecting on the Sweet Sixteen, USC has what it takes to be a contender at the national level. We were right there with the National Champions. Any Day could have gone either way with the weather, but we belong.
We were blessed with some outstanding awards for our Captain, Tim Holkenborg. Tim was voted Player of the Week 3 times during weeks 1,3,8 of the season and freshman winger, Tim Hamill, also received Player of the Week honors in week 5 and junior winger Matt Berenato , one of our next season captains, finished the SEC regular season out as Player of the Week in final week 9. Outstanding work by the guys to capture 5 out of the 9 weeks as SEC East Players of the Week. As for the All SEC Conference Team we placed 5 out of the 15 on the 1st Team. Prop- David Mysona, flanker-Dana Corcoran, Fly- Tim Holkenborg, Center-Mitch Fontalvo, Wing-Matt Berenato . We also had one freshman, Wing- Tim Hamill make the 2nd Team All SEC.
As the season closes two final awards were handed out by the SCRC. The one I am most happy about was our captain, Tim Holkenborg receiving SEC Player of the Year Honors. No player deserved it more than Tim with his play and leadership of the team season. The other award was my proudest moment of the season for the team, because it really is the ultimate team award. I was recognized with the SEC Coach of the Year Honors. I feel I was honored only because of the outstanding coaches and players I had this season and their dedication and hard work that rewarded me with an award that can only be shared by everyone associated with the Club.
In closing, all I can say is Thank you to the Team, Coaches, Supporters and especially the COB Board and Foundation for their generous donations to make all the post-season travel and year end Awards Banquet possible. As the Head Coach I am proud of everyone associated with USC Men’s Rugby and look forward to next season.
University of South Carolina Men’s Rugby