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It has been nearly three months since the men’s rugby team last competed on the pitch. But this Friday, the long wait will finally be over, as the Tigers prepare to take on the Georgetown Hoyas in Princeton’s first match of the spring season.

Rugby remains one of the few sports on Princeton’s campus that plays both a fall and spring season. This means that the team has one of the shortest off-seasons on campus. With only two months separating the end of fall season and the preseason practices of the spring, the Tigers had no time to waste when it came to off-season preparation and conditioning.

“Led by our two captains, seniors Billy Haynes and Mark Goldstein, our team has worked hard over the winter,” commented head coach Richard Lopacki. “It’s been great to see good numbers at all our lifting and training sessions for the last few months.”

The spring season will mark the eighth and final season for a very strong senior class. Haynes and Goldstein have led the way as key players and captains over the last year. Additionally, the team hopes to see the return of seniors Nezim Mmegwa and Adrian Odunayo; both players have been core components of the Tiger teams these last few seasons and are looking to return from injuries sustained in the fall to close out their campaigns on a high note. Many of the upperclassmen have been encouraged by the way the team has grown over the last few seasons as well as the rapid progress the team has made in this off-season alone.

“It's been really rewarding to see how the team and program have evolved in just a few short years,” noted Goldstein. “This has definitely been the most productive off-season we have had in my four years, and I am excited to see how that transfers over to the pitch this spring and beyond. Some of the younger players still learning the game have progressed quickly this year and I'm looking forward to following their progress as an alum as well.”

The spring season serves as a unique opportunity for the Tigers to combine some of the older, more developed talent with underclassmen who have made tremendous strides during the fall and winter. This spring will be no different; the Tigers will be playing their A-side from the fall but will also be featuring some newer talent as well. 

“Some of our newer players will be getting their very first A-side start on Friday night, and I’m really excited to see them in action against a top team," Lopacki said.

Friday night’s showdown against the Hoyas will be a chance for the Tigers to match up against another strong team from a different conference. With such a condensed schedule in the fall, Princeton usually doesn’t play non-conference opponents until the spring slate. Now, it will have a chance to pit its skills against one of the strongest teams from the Chesapeake Conference. The team will be looking to build off a strong ending to the fall season, when, despite losing many starters to injuries, it rattled off three wins in its final three matches. When asked about the fall season, Goldstein explained that he thinks the "team showed a tremendous amount of character in those last few games playing shorthanded, with a lot of younger guys stepping up into key roles.”

The spring season is loaded with key dates and matches for the Tigers. During the final months of the semester, the Tigers will take on Yale in the annual Koranda Cup showdown and will also be hosting the annual Rickerson Cup, which features some of the best teams from New Jersey and the surrounding area. In just a few weeks, the team will also be traveling to Ireland as part of its traditional spring break tour. The tour is a big highlight for all of the players and one of the capstones of each spring season. 

“We are all looking forward to our Ireland developmental tour over spring break in Galway,” said Lopacki. “It will give us all an opportunity to build our skills and understanding of rugby in a country well known for its rugby prowess.”

For the seniors, the spring also offers a final chance to leave behind a legacy and reflect on how the team has grown over the past four years. Reflecting on his time as a player, Goldstein stated, “We really pride ourselves on being a fun and inclusive group, and I am proud that we have managed to continue that tradition while also being competitive on the pitch.” He added, “There's a lot I'm going to miss about Princeton rugby, but nothing more so than match days with the guys. Laying it on the line for 80 minutes as a team and celebrating together afterwards is a really special experience and I'm looking forward to making the most out of those days I have left as a senior.”

You can catch the Tigers in action this Friday at 7:30 p.m. against the Hoyas down at Finney and Cambell Field, right across from Jadwin Gymnasium.

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