The end wasn’t what the members of the Royal Irish Rugby Society wanted.
It wasn’t anything to which they were accustomed, either. Still, if the 2015 season ended with an uncharacteristic and unusual loss, it’s also true that the season – like the careers of the seniors in the program – can only be described as a success.
And Scott Peterson said eventually that’s how the seniors – and everyone else in the program – will remember not only this season, but their entire careers.
“They’ve had a run here that’s about as good as it gets,” Peterson, the Royal Irish Rugby Society’s head coach, said recently.
Indeed they have.
The Royal Irish Rugby Society (12-2 in 2015), a team of players from Cathedral and Bishop Chatard High Schools, this season won a third national title in four seasons and a fourth consecutive Midwest title. The program fell one victory shy of sweeping the national, Midwest and state titles for a second consecutive season and for a third time in four seasons.
The Royal Irish this season won the Midwest and national title before losing their final game of the season, 19-17, to Penn in the Indiana Super League varsity championship game at the Moose Rugby Grounds in Elkhart, Ind., on May 30.
The Royal Irish rallied from an early 12-0 deficit in the state final to tie Penn 12-12 before Penn took a 19-12 halftime lead. Senior All-America flyhalf Brian Hannon, who attended Chatard, scored to make it 19-17, but the conversion failed and Penn secured the victory.
The Royal Irish – who beat Penn, 12-3, in late April – beat LaSalette, 31-10, on May 23 to advance to the state final. That game ended the season with a rare loss for the program – and with a disappointed group of players and coaches.
“It was not how they wanted to end it,” Peterson said. “Maybe later on they might take it as a positive, but everybody was pretty upset after the Penn game for sure.”
Until the final game, the postseason – like the season – had been filled with the same success the program had experienced for the past three seasons.
The Royal Irish beat Fishers, 62-17, on May 5 for the Midwest Championship and beat Granite Bay, Cal., 21-15 on May 16 at the Rugby Athletic Center in Charlotte, N.C. for their third national club title in four seasons.
The program’s seniors numbers tell a remarkable success story:
The Royal Irish’s seniors finished their four seasons with four Midwest titles, three national titles, three state titles – and just three losses. They also lost in the 2013 national title game and opened this season with a 27-25 last-second loss to Gonzaga (Wash.) High School, the single-school national champions in 2014 and 2015 and a program Peterson called one of the best in the country.
“That was kind of a heartbreaker for us,” Peterson said.
The senior class featured Hannon, flanker Noah Schrader and flanker Drew Weimer, a trio of All-America or potential All-America selections. Also finishing his Royal Irish career was Michael Fleck, a fullback from Cathedral and an “exciting, electric-type player who made a lot of stuff happen offensively,” Peterson said.
“The list goes on,” he said. “Those guys were very consistent.”
Prop Jimmy McGuigan, a lineman on the Cathedral football team, was extremely tough and a great rugby player, according to Peterson. McGuigan led a dominant forward pack that also included prop Dave Schrader, another Cathedral player.
Other key Royal Irish contributors from Cathedral in 2015 included center Kyle Hoeper, second row Will Schroeder and scrum half Tyler Decker as well as John Preston.
That group was key to the latest season of a program that continues to establish itself as one of the top high school rugby programs in the state, region and nation. Peterson said the future of the program remains bright.
And Peterson said while this season featured two difficult losses – one in the regular-season opener and the other in the season finale – this senior class will be remembered far more for the success it brought the program.
“We’re fortunate to have them,” Peterson said. “Over a four-year span in the history of high school rugby – I don’t want to say it’s unprecedented because there have been some dominant teams – but in our era there aren’t a lot of teams that can say that, if any.
“Hopefully, someday they they’ll realize that. I don’t know if they do now, but hopefully someday they will.”