By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — As disappointing as the season’s end was, the Miami County Bombers high school rugby team still had its best season yet.
“We had probably the best team we’ve had in our four years,” coach Dale Kellis said. “We went 4-1-1 during the season and were ranked third in our division going into the playoffs. Our only defeat during the season was to the Columbus Crusaders — and when that game was over, their coach walked over to us and said ‘see you guys in the playoffs.’”
He should have been right, too.
The Bombers — a team featuring players from Troy, Tippecanoe, Miami East, Piqua and Bradford High Schools, among others — outscored their opponents 134-29 over the course of the season and went farther in the postseason than they had in their four-year history, qualifying for the state semifinal round. But the match was scheduled to take place on a graduation-heavy Saturday, and the Bombers were forced to forfeit due to lack of players.
“They scheduled the match the same day as the Troy and Bradford graduations,” Kellis said. “We fought to have the game moved, but they couldn’t change days. It was very disappointing. We ended up not having enough players, and we had to forfeit the match.
“It happens for a lot of spring sports, but when you have so little time to make a decision, it’s tough. The seniors saw how hard we coaches fought to get the match moved, but the players themselves were upbeat about it. They just said that we had to come back and redo it next year.”
The team, also coached by Frank Harris and Andy Luciano as well as former players Travis Dever and Sean Grapes, made some key pickups before the season began — and those proved to be big moves.
We picked up Kurt Brower from Miami East for this year,” Kellis said. “His little brother Devin already played for us, and he was a big addition to the team. We put him in as a back, and he was just awesome.
“We had Frankie Quintero, who won our MVP award for the season, at inside center on the back line, and Kurt was the outside center back. Those two scored a lot. They were the duo that everyone wanted to stop. I think we probably had the best backs in the whole state.”
But the Bombers’ skill didn’t end there.
“Our scrum, the big guys, were really good, too,” Kellis said. “We just had really good players overall. We had a mish-mash of all kinds of athletes, too. We even had one kid that was in ballet — they’re usually agile and fast and don’t get hurt very easily.
“In rugby, anyone can find a place to play. We had guys from 140 pounds all the way up to almost 300 pounds. You can fit just about anybody somewhere on the field.”
Three players won awards after the season’s end: Troy’s Quintero earned the team’s Most Valuable Player, Piqua’s Aric Tipps was named Most Improved and Arcanum’s Cody Ingle was the Rookie of the Year. Also on the team was Troy’s Kameron Block, Ryan Dever, Isaiah Fitch, Gage Forsythe, Justin Mittelstadt, James Partin, Kobe Scott and Dallas Shamblin, Miami East’s Brower brothers and Brad Jenkins — the team’s first four-year player — Bradford’s Zach Herron and Fort Loramie’s Dylan Keitkamp.
“It’s a challenge, competing with other sports for players,” Kellis said. “And football coaches are still not that sure about rugby. But in rugby, all of the tackling is much more structured. You have to wrap someone up to bring them down, no open hitting or blindsides like in football. Pete Carroll in Seattle and even Urban Meyer at Ohio State have both brought in rugby guys to help their teams work on their tackling technique. Playing rugby would keep players in shape going into football season, and it also gives them the opportunity to learn to be more disciplined when tackling.”
All told, the team had its best season yet.
“Our first year, we didn’t even win a match,” Kellis said. “I think we won two our second year, but last year we reached the state quarterfinals. This year, we made it all the way to the state semifinals but had to forfeit.
“We outscored our opponents 134-29 in the matches we played. We were absolutely dominant when we had the ball, and the fact that teams only were able to score 29 points on us speaks for itself. I think we had the best open-field tacklers in the league.”
The Bombers also had players receive college scholarship offers from Thomas Moore College, with it being the first year the school is offering rugby scholarships.
And after all the success they had, the Bombers are looking to improve next season.
“We’re hoping we can build on this season for next year,” Kellis said. “We do lose some very good seniors, players that have been with us for several years. But we have some pretty good underclassmen coming up.
“We just have to have more players next year. We had 19 this year, and you want 20 or more, preferably 24 or 25 on your roster. I doubt what happened to us in the state semifinal will happen again — several other teams were affected, too, and Ohio rugby is going to be taking a look at it. But we need more players.”
Players interested in playing rugby for the Miami County Bombers can contact Kellis at 937-875-1639 or by email at [email protected]
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.