By Forest Stulting, Sports Editor
In the Paladins fourth year in Division II, the 2014 rugby season was one to remember. The team won their first SoCon Conference title, beating conference powerhouse UNC- Wilmington and advancing to the Round of 16 in the DII playoffs. The team was defeated by Final Four participant Notre Dame College (Ohio) by two points, earning them a final ranking of sixth according to RugbyToday. com
Moving into 2015, the Paladins have some work to do. The team will need to replace four players in the very important scrum set. Founder and Head Coach John Roberts realizes the the team needs to compensate for these players.
“We graduated three starters in the spring, but two key players, Jeff Tonge and Adrian Marcogliese, are on study away. So, we are missing a third of the players that led us to the conference championship last fall,” Roberts said. The Paladins will also need to replace their captain and backline starter Turner Morsches.
Taking over as team captain is junior and eight man specialist Patrick Musau. In the scrum, the Paladins have one of the most impressive rugby classes Furman has seen.
“We have eight in our recruiting class. Of those, a couple have earned starting positions and three to four others are pressing for starting roles,” Roberts said. The recruits include South African Thomas Trankle, Englander Robbie Greco and John Williams, who was a member of the USA U-19 team. The Paladins also signed Jeff Rein, Austin Willis, Aidan Clarke, Josh Hager, Pierce Kirkland and Drew Turner.
“We could have one of the strongest teams since we launched the program in 1998,” Roberts said about the strong recruiting class. Senior hooker Sammy Hobgood agrees.
“We are deeper and more talented than we’ve been in my time at Furman,” Hobgood said.
Starting at fly half, the Paladins return two year starter Jacob Milchuck. Outside of Milchuck on the backline are juniors Adam Miller and Austin Armor.
The four pack is anchored by junior flanker Miles Lerner and senior prop Lucas Ward.
The Paladin’s season began Aug. 29 with an exhibition against Virginia Military Institute. The Paladins dominated, beating VMI by a score of 47-22.
The Goff Rugby Report posted the first DII rankings of the year which had the Paladins ranked fourth in the nation. SoCon foe UNC-Wilmington is ranked twelfth.
Sept. 12 the Paladins ho sted Coastal Carolina. It was a rough start to the regular season for the Paladins. They lost 28-9 with three of their scores coming in the last ten minutes.
The Paladins will host The Citadel (Sept. 26) and Lander (Oct. 3). On the road, the Paladins will face College of Charleston (Sept. 19) and UNC- Wilmington (Oct. 17), with the SoCon Championship being held Nov. 7th.
Also, the annual alumni FROG (Furman Rugby Olde Guys) match is scheduled for Oct. 24th.
Roberts said the keys to having a successful season “will be developing chemistry, how hard we work, and staying healthy. We have defeated the last three Division I teams we have played, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, who we defeated in the spring and were ranked 18th in DI and won the Southeastern Conference when we bested them last February. So, we have the firepower to play with the some of the best DI teams.”