Before he attended Fenwick, senior Nate Jakaitis watched rugby when his cousins played for their women’s college team.
“I had no idea what the objective was, but it seemed fun.” Jakaitis said. “It was just like utter confusion. I had no idea where the ball was supposed to go. I knew they could go backwards and kick it.
“When I heard Fenwick had a rugby team, I had to try it out. Why not?”
Jakaitis now is a team captain and among a handful of experienced members of the Friars Rugby Football Club, which has 43 players among two levels.
Other varsity members are seniors Conor Cawley, Jack Hosty, Patrick Jacobs, Will Lattner, Trent Leslie, Erik Luthringhausen, Aiden Maloney, Brendan McDonough, Jack Moore, Matt Prinske, Patrick Rafferty, Victor Reyes, Jacob Sopel, Louis Waddle and Matthew Walsh, juniors Jack Angelini, Conor Foley, Jackson Haeflinger, Luke Hedges, Andrew Morrissey, Alec Polston, Matt Schiltz and Marco Torres and sophomores Liam Mahon, Ian Moran and Phil Prinske.
In their fifth season of existence, the Friars compete in Rugby Illinois’ Division I, the highest tier. They lost their Chicago Catholic Rugby Conference and season opener to Mt. Carmel 57-5 April 7. Brother Rice, St. Ignatius and St. Rita also are in the CCRC.
The Friars play six regular-season matches — all CCRC opponents and New Trier and Morton from the other division. Eight of the 10 Division I teams qualify for the playoffs.
The junior varsity beat Mt. Carmel 26-22. The 2014 JV team won its division — the Friars’ first championship at any level.
“We have got some talented kids but we also have a lot of new beginning players,” said club president and varsity head coach Bill Mahon. “On one level that’s good because it develops experience for next year but on the other hand it puts us at a disadvantage this year.”
In rugby, 15 players take the field. The Friars have only half of that number in returnees. Leslie, a 2015 All-CCRC first team selection, is out with a broken wrist suffered during hockey.
The Friars also lack size. Their strength is tremendous speed.
“That’s what we’re working on, strategize with the size we have,” Bill Mahon said.
Jakaitis, who plays soccer and bowling for Fenwick, enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie of rugby. Many teammates are soccer or football players.
“You need everyone to be working. If one guy falls out, the whole team goes down,” Jakaitis said. “Everyone gets that chance to score. It’s unlike (U.S.) football, where certain people are lineman, certain people are receivers.
“(Afterwards) parents bring meals and we sit and talk to the other team. It’s nice to go from that war mentality and then you’re friends after. You leave it all on the pitch.”
During spring break, the Friars made their second trip in three years to Ireland, visiting Dublin, Galway and Limerick. Twenty-two players received instruction from national age group coaches and played St. Munchin’s College.
In October, Fenwick rugby drew about 100 youth players to a series of one-day Sunday clinics. This spring, there are new Rugby Illinois league teams at Under-12 and Under-14.
Mahon said about 15 Fenwick alumni are playing college rugby.
“That’s another goal – try to grow the sport, make it a positive experience,” Mahon said.