Mike O’Brien isn’t a newbie to rugby anymore.
The Marist senior has been competing for three years and even devoted his offseason to playing with the South Side Irish Rugby Academy to improve his knowledge and all-around skills. For O’Brien, expectations have been raised, and he isn’t alone.
Continuing to build an identity in the program’s fourth year, the RedHawks’ hopes are high.
Opening this season’s Chicago Catholic Rugby Conference action on April 4, Marist claimed a convincing 41-7 victory over host Mt. Carmel.
“This is a real statement game for our team. It’s the first time we’ve beaten Mt. Carmel,” O’Brien said. “We preached all week to win with our defense. It really showed today. We launched up as a defense, and we had the bigger edge.”
Following nonconference wins to open the season over Taft and the South Suburban Cobras, Marist improved to 3-0, 1-0.
Senior fly Daniel Scarnavack scored 2 tries for the RedHawks with senior seconds Jason Martin and Jake Duerr and senior Luke Wollenberg tallying a try apiece.
Junior Pat Collevy kicked 5 conversions and added 2 penalty kicks.
Controlling the pace and scoring via a handful of long, home-run plays, Marist set the tone early with tries from Martin and Duerr in the first half.
However, the defensive effort did the dirty work for the RedHawks.
“As a team, we’ve always had a good defense,” Scarnavack said. “We wanted to jump on the line and hold them so they can’t get plays for distance. We wanted to choke them early and play fast.”
Duerr’s enthusiastic try and Collevy’s conversion put Marist up 20-0 in the closing minutes of the first half.
Wollenberg added his score early in the second.
Following a Mt. Carmel score a few minutes later, Scarnavack sealed the win with 2 hard-fought tries, including one sprint from almost 30 yards out through the defense.
With the team closing the victory in style, Scarnavack said he loved the effort.
“We’ve been pushing on offense, getting the ball out wide and getting it deep with fast plays,” Scarnavack said. “We knew they were a tough team. We wanted to ram it at them, so it’s a big feeling of accomplishment when you get the job done.”
As for the defensive effort, the RedHawks stuck to their game plan.
“We talk about 15 players as one,” O’Brien said. “That’s a big philosophy. We move as one unit. Mt. Carmel has great individual athletes. We come up as one at the same time, and there are no gaps. They panic and run sideways where we’re running downhill and smoke them.”
Marist has upcoming games hosting St. Rita (April 12) and Fenwick (May 3) and away games at St. Ignatius (April 23) and Br. Rice (May 7).
Coach Jim Drousias said he wants to see continued defensive drive from his team.
“It’s these guys’ effort. They want to hit people and launch up,” Drousias said. “They want to make a tackle. They were ferocious at all points of the game. Our defense leads to offense, so we want to put pressure and force mistakes.”
Mt. Carmel Coach Mike Holland said that, with a relatively young and inexperienced roster, his team will continue to work on the basics.
“We want to continue to grow our knowledge of the game,” Holland said. “Our biggest problem now is our rugby knowledge isn’t where it needs to be. It shows in our mistakes. We’d like our defense to improve.”
Senior Liam Walsh (St. Cajetan) scored Mt. Carmel’s lone try of the game and also nailed the conversion early in the second half.
For Walsh, it’s been a long ride since he was a freshman going out for volleyball.
“I went out for volleyball, but I was the only freshman. I wanted to try rugby,” Walsh said. “I said ‘Screw it, might as well try.’ I went out to that first practice and loved it. It’s fun to hit and even be hit. It can be a rush.”
Mt. Carmel will travel to play Fenwick (April 14) and St. Rita (May 8) and will host St. Ignatius (May 1).
Walsh said the Caravan has plenty to clean up going forward.
“Marist pushed up on defense really fast,” Walsh said. “We had difficulty getting it to our wings. There are some things we could have done better, for sure.”