In their last chance for a win, the North Fork Knights, a club rugby team for high-school age players, made it count.
The Knights have taken their lumps this spring. Their first four games were against more experienced teams and the scores weren’t close.
“It was really tough physically and even worse mentally, just getting beat down,” said Eshi Baldano, who plays the number-eight position for North Fork. “It didn’t make us really feel that great, but after every game we thought about what we did wrong and what we could do better and we improved on it.”
In the process, the Knights may have become even more determined, too. So, when they played their fifth and final game in Rugby New York’s Metropolitan Division II East on Sunday, they made it count. Tristin Ireland ran for three tries and 15 points in North Fork’s 40-30 defeat of Dwight Boys Rugby Club on a cold, windy afternoon at Mattituck High School.
Chalk one up in the win column.
“We got beat pretty bad a couple of times, but it was a nice day to win,” said Chris Jester, who plays as a lock for North Fork.
Jester, the team captain, ran for two tries. Also scoring for North Fork were Mike Goodale, Baldano and Robbie Lechner.
All the team members attend Mattituck High School, including Ireland, a senior flanker who also plays football and lacrosse. Like many of his teammates, Ireland is a newbie to the sport, playing in only his second rugby match.
“Tristin, he does a great job,” coach Mike Jablonski said. “He runs hard. He knows where to be. He picks up the ball. His tackling is great.”
Jablonski also liked what he saw from others. He saw hard running from Goodale, Jester and Lechner, a freshman. He liked the way Kasper Michilak, a 120-pound freshman who plays on the wing, made tackles. He liked the way the Knights supported each other on tackles and rucks, which create an orderly struggle for possession after the ball has hit the ground.
“All of them really impressed me today,” said Jablonski.
Chris Schroeder, a junior fly half who had been the team’s captain before breaking his right thumb in a game against the Long Island Colts this season, did not play.
Most of the teams North Fork has faced have been together for several years, compared to the two months the Knights have been together, said Jablonski. Experience counts for a lot in this sport, along with teamwork.
“When we first started out, we weren’t playing as one,” said Jester, a senior who will enter the United States Marine Corps.
Ireland said he has seen “insane” improvement from the team since its first game. Teamwork has been critical.
“It is a lot of having your team back you up and keeping position,” he said. “It’s a nonstop game, so you just have to have the drive to keep going. You got to work together and you got to be on the same page. You all have to have the same mindset.”
Rugby is an exhausting game in which the action rarely stops. It takes strength, endurance and a lot of running.
“Seventy minutes of hitting, tackling, running, rucking,” Jablonski said. “It’s really an endurance game.”
After enduring a series of defeats, the Knights could finally enjoy the sweet taste of victory, along with pizza afterward.
“The guys have been working really hard since the beginning of March and it feels good to get that win under the belt,” said Jablonski, who is assisted by New Zealander Jeff Cochrane. “We’ve been beaten by some pretty good teams, so now to come out and win one, it’s a great feeling for them.”
Photo caption: Tristin Ireland ran for three tries and 15 points in North Fork’s first win of the season on Sunday. (Credit: Garret Meade)