Preseason practice for a club sport is almost unheard of in modern times. Except in the case of the Harvard Rugby Club.
During the past two weeks, the club has been holding its second consecutive preseason practice.
"For a club sport, we are having a massive turnout, at least 35 guys," Harvard rugby Coach Martyn Kingston said. "The only reason we don't have more coming for this important preseason is that we have not been offered accomodations by the university."
"Still, we're really excited about the returning group," Kingston added. "Eighteen of the top 24 players from last year return and that gives us a good core of experience. This could be a very good year."
All-New England select stars Mike Gibbs (scrum-half), Nathan Koenig (fullback) and Jon Diorio (reserve prop) lead the long list of returnees from last year's 10-10-2 (4-5 fall, 6-5-2 spring) squad.
Wing Lanny Thorndike and forward Scott Roberts take over for Jon Israel and Ray LaRaja as co-captains, and will lead the Crimson through a rugged schedule which should prepare the squad for the New England Championships at UMass in late October.
Included on the schedule is Army (ranked number eight in the nation), Boston College (number three in the East) and Dartmouth (third in the nation). Harvard battles all three powers in the two weeks preceding the N.E. Championships, including B.C. and Army in one weekend.
The tough schedule will be somewhat less strenuous for the Crimson, since 10 of the 13 contests are at Soldiers Field. In comparison, 15 of Harvard's 21 contests last year were on the road.
"It's one of the toughest schedules and it should be a real challenging season," Roberts said. "But I'm optimistic, based on last season, and how we finished the season."
The way Harvard finished the season was with a thrilling 10-6 upset victory over previously unbeaten B.C. The victory allowed Harvard to capture the Beanpot, and was especially sweet because the same Eagle squad blasted the Crimson, 32-6, in a fall mismatch.
After a slow start in the spring season, the ruggers came on strong, winning five of their final six contests. In the six-game span, Harvard allowed only 20 points, while scoring 60, and recorded three shutouts.
Overall, Harvard allowed only 80 points in 13 spring contest, posting five shutouts, after yielding 146 points in nine fall contests without recording a single shutout.
"We did finish real strong," Roberts said, "We hope to build on that, and see what happens."