by Joseph "Big Baby" Kloiber (pictured above, second from left)
As I look back at this past year one word continues to come to mind, and that is IMPROVEMENT.
We began with a bunch of newer players to the Barbarians who hadn't played together much at all. We started out against Black and Blue and it was a really hard fought match. Great defense, great communication, and making our conversions led to a 14-12 victory.
We earned that win. I'd be lying if I said I thought we would continue this week in and week out, but we did.
As we traversed our way through the fall portion of our scheduled we continued to improve. Our set pieces got better. Our support lines got better. Our attitudes got better as each week we set our goal of 1-0 and achieved it.
Over the fall season people missed games but others stepped in and made sure there was no huge drop off. Before we knew it we were 5-0 heading into the final game of the fall portion of our season. A home game against the Rockford Ravens.
We came out guns blazing and went into the winter break with a 58-12 win and a 6-0 record. A huge exclamation point on our fall campaign.
Winter training was well attended by the D3 side. Getting on a turf field instead of a gym was a bonus for us and makes me grateful to be a part of this club which can make something like this happen. (I remember 8-9 years ago trying to train in some tiny church gym).
New faces joined us this spring and made an immediate impact for the Barbarians. Zach, Ray, Rhys, Brian, and Darren to name just a few.
Thanks to Jim Harings (Match Secretary for Life) we were able to secure a round robin match with MRFC and FDL RFC in Fond du Lac as a spring warm-up. As the day went on our cohesion increased culminating with a 30-0 final twenty minutes against FDL. We were ready for spring league matches to start.
Unfortunately injuries, work, and funerals meant we had to head to Green Bay at less then full strength. Closely contested before half, GB was too much in the second half as they secured a victory and the number 1 seed from the Wisconsin/CARFU division.
The following week was make-it or break-it time for the D3 side, as a win would put us in the playoffs but a loss would end our season. So in essence, it was a playoff game for us.
We made adjustments and improvements from the previous week and though the score was close, we outplayed Oconomowoc for most of the game, both in the set pieces and in the loose. That doesn't mean they didn't make it interesting... A try with 2 minutes left brought them within 7, and another miscue after the following kickoff gave them a break away for a chance to tie, but a try saving tackle put us through to another weekend.
Improving from the week before we traveled to St. Charles, Illinois to take on the Fox Valley Maoris in 40 degree temps, 25 mph winds, and driving rain for the first 70 mins of the game. After 80 mins the score was locked at 12 and that meant OT.
After Fox Valley scored a try in the first of two 10 minute halves it was looking bleak, but Super-sub Ben Nirschl picked off a pass inside their 22 and slid under the uprights for a center-post try. With two minutes to go inside their 22 Wayne Cutler poached the ball from their ruck, and immediately after Fox Valley committed a penalty. This gave Sam Rooster Huschen a penalty kick just right of the uprights which he put right down the middle, giving us the 22-19 win and another round of playoffs.
We had the chance to play in the Western Conference final four, but could not make it past Bremer County. Alas, we look to next year.
Last fall I was looking to take a step back from rugby, not play D1. To play in D3 home games and maybe an away game.
But you guys elected me forwards captain (much to the dislike of my wife) and though I made many mistakes I lead the forwards to the best of my ability.
I know you hear this a lot but please understand how proud I am of this D3 team. At the beginning of last fall we were supposed to be playing D4, and look where we ended up — a Western Conference semi-finalist! And already I see a lot of guys ready to challenge and take over D1 spots this fall.
I just want to say thank you for the great effort you put into this team and for making my last year playing competitively a memorable one.
It has been a true pleasure playing B-side for the Harlequins, then A-side for the D2 Harlequins, then D1 for both the Harlequins and the Barbarians, and lastly D3/D1 this year.
There are too many to thank so I won't name anyone, except of course my wife Julia.
This has been such an amazing part of my life with friendships and memories that will last a life time.