Rugby team to begin season with young talent

Bob Reynolds, Staff Reporter

Emalie Thorton, a redshirt sophomore flanker, tackles a Wisconsin All-Star player during a game at Lakeside Field on Sept. 7, 2013.
File Photo | The Daily Eastern News
Emalie Thorton, a redshirt sophomore flanker, tackles a Wisconsin All-Star player during a game at Lakeside Field on Sept. 7, 2013.

The Eastern rugby team will try to rebound this season after its worst season in the team’s history last year.

The Panthers started the season with six straight losses but finished on a strong note with wins over Kentucky and Illinois State.

Head coach Frank Graziano’s team last season was full of players who had little-to-no experience of playing rugby before. Seven of last season’s players were freshman and two others never played rugby before in their lives. The Panthers were left with four veterans on the team, Shelby Pilch, Kim Youhas, Angela Cerceo-Jensen and Ellen Wilson.

Wilson and Youhas are still on the team and Pilch and Cerceo-Jensen have graduated.

Even though the Panthers lost two of their leaders last season, they will not be without their leading point-getter this season.

Redshirt sophomore, Miranda Hankins, who was one of the newcomers last season, lead the Panthers in trys with eight and points with 40. Carissa Burge was next in line with five trys and 39 points scored in the season.

Wilson led the team in tackles last season with 64 and red-shirt sophomore Emalie Thornton and Carissa Burge tied for 52 tackles each.

This season, the Panthers added eight new players to the roster, six of which are freshman with zero rugby experience, adding to the roster that will have eight returning players.

Included in the signees are, Lynn Webb from nearby Mattoon, Lacey Viano, Jessica Maricich, Katlyn Gibso, Lexie Yeley and Madison Overbay.

All of the six freshmen signed this season are from the state of Illinois.

Webb is the third player from the Mattoon and Charleston area that Graziano has signed.

Last season he added Hannah Veith from Mattoon and Hankins from Charleston to the roster.

Graziano has a history of signing players that are multi-sport athletes and developing them into skilled rugby players.

Graziano rates his class as one of the best recruiting classes in recent years and said their eagerness to learn and improve might be their strongest characteristics.

“All our signees are multi-sport crossover student-athletes with basketball, cross-country, soccer, softball swimming, tennis, track and volleyball all represented,” he said in a press release. “Each signee also excels in the classroom and will bring toughness and a strong competitive spirit to the playing field.”

The Panthers begin their season on Saturday, when they travel to Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin All-Stars.

Bob Reynolds can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].