by JAMES WOOD
This season has been no walk in the park for the defending Division I state champion Rockford Rams. With the loss of more than a full starting side of seniors from their 2008 campaign, this year’s squad has had their work cut out for them right from the get go. Younger and vastly undersized, this group has been learning that it takes nothing short of complete teamwork to put W’s on the board. Although the regular season left something to be desired, the 2009 Ram rugby team persisted and now finds itself heading to the Division III state championship game.
One of only a handful of upperclassmen, senior captain Kyle Pletzke has led the team from day one and has helped to keep things from derailing at the first sign of adversity. Pletzke has been with the club for the past four years and has seen both highs and lows.
“He helped keep morale up during the rough patches and kept everyone moving forward with purpose.” say the coaches.
In addition to Pletzke, the club will also be losing starting number eight Bryan Ray who has recently brought his game to a new level, along with starting fullback and try-saving extraordinaire Nate Baldwin, as well as rugby newcomers David Brower and Clay Veldkamp.
Even with the loss of this solid group of seniors, the Rams are looking ahead to an extremely bright future. “We have some talented guys who will be looking to fill the roles of our seniors who are moving on,” said the coaches. “Unfortunately some of our upperclassman standouts are having to miss the playoffs with injuries.”
Junior Dallas Hanson, the team’s starting flyhalf, is out with broken ribs, and backline menace junior Curtis Day has had to sit with an ankle injury.
“Our junior group on the field [Mark Flemming, James Springvold, Kyle Henry] have been playing some really solid rugby,” the coaches said. With the exception of a handful of juniors and seniors, most of the Rams’ starting lineup is comprised of underclassmen. “In any given match we may fill as many as seven to 11 of our starting sports with freshman and sophomore athletes,” said the coaches. “Seven of the spots have been filled by underclassmen on a nearly permanent basis, two of which are freshmen.”
Some of the talented freshman ruggers include Trevor Alferink, who has been one of the Rams’ strongest tacklers all season at flanker, Brady Gent at outside centre, Aaron Plambeck at scrumhalf, Jacob Wilson at prop and, although injured for most of the season but giving the team the spark they needed in the playoffs, Anthony Martinez at hoorker or number eight.
“What these young men have been able to do in conjunction with last year’s bunch is a testament that our youth program is working,” commented the coaching staff.
Sophomore starters this year include the likes of second row Andrew Barclay, prop Zack Nelson, hooker Chris “Bubba” Zimmer, scrum/flyhalf Luke Counterman, flanker Brad Merritt, and wing Adam Bursley. With such a young bunch, the Rams are looking forward to continued success in the future.
After defeating the likes of Anthony Wayne (Ohio) by a score of 24-7 and Gross Point 7-5 in last weekend’s playoff matches held at West Ottawa High School, the Rams are looking to add one more win to this season’s tally. They will be meeting up with Dearborn in the Division III state championship match this Saturday, May 23 at 11:00 a.m. All state championship matches are being held at Davenport University, 6191 Kraft Ave., Grand Rapids. The first game of the day will be kicking off at 9:00 a.m. and the last at 3:00 p.m.