With five players from Guam on the American International College men’s rugby team roster, the Yellow Jackets defeated Fairfield University 35-26 in the Liberty Rugby Conference semifinals.
AIC, a United States Rugby Association Division I powerhouse, is located in Springfield, Massachusetts
On Sunday, the Guam-laden Yellow Jackets will try to make history, capturing a first-ever men’s conference title against division rival Brown University in the championship game in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The five Guamanians on AIC’s roster represent three high schools: Tyler Daga, KK Kaminanga and Kekoa Tenorio-Toves, Simon Sanchez High School; Christian Reyes, George Washington High School; and Izzic Cabrera, Father Duenas Memorial School. All but one are sophomores. Kaminanga in the lone freshman.
As of press time, Reyes and head coach T Fletcher's responses had not been received. The Post will make every effort to include their comments in a post-championship article.
The Guam Daily Post caught up with some of the players for this Q&A, pre-championship game article. During the interviews, the Post asked the young men a series of questions related to the season, the impending title game and all things rugby. Adjusting to sub-zero temperatures, homesickness and the bigger, faster, more refined collegiate game has been challenging. A challenge they have taken head on in an effort to win the championship and make the island proud.
Below are the questions and responses.
Question 1: Coming from Guam, what was the biggest adjustment you needed to make?
Answer 1 - Tenorio-Toves: “The biggest adjustment I personally had to make was trying to adapt to the weather, and fast. Coming from the island, we are used to the blazing heat hugging your body from every angle, then, coming out here, we have to start adjusting to the cold. It took time, for sure, and I’m still not climatized to it but we still have to do what we came here to do which is to get a degree, play the sport that I’m passionate about and represent the island of Guam.
Daga: “The biggest adjustment to me was the distance from my family. Also experiencing all four seasons was difficult coming from Guam, but having the boys and girls from back home makes things less stressful because I’ve got my family away from home here on campus.
Kaminanga: “The biggest adjustments I had to make were in regards to the time zone and the weather.”
Cabrera: “Coming from Guam, I would say the biggest adjustments that I needed to make were the difference in the weather, the people and the grind of school with rugby.”
Q2: How has Guam rugby helped you when transitioning to rugby at AIC?
A2: Tenorio-Toves: “The mindset to succeed really prevailed. I was taught from all of my mentors that if you put your mind to it, nothing is impossible to accomplish. Yes, I have learned the game of rugby from my coaches, but the mindset that they instilled in me will remain with me throughout the rest of my life and I’m forever grateful for that.
Daga: “The island style of Guam rugby is more aggressive than the rugby I’ve been introduced out here. In the mainland it’s more structured and has a lot more strategy involved. Not saying it’s a bad thing, but it was something I had to adjust to as it’s different from back home. “
Kaminanga: “Being around the Guam Rugby Club men’s team helped me see the field more and helped me develop in the game of rugby and made me the person I am today. Those experiences helped me to transition to being a team player and playmaker here at AIC.”
Cabrera: “Guam’s rugby style is a lot simpler than out here but everything that I have learned over the years from coaches and my peers has helped me to be a step ahead. I am thankful for what all my coaches have instilled in me as it will remain with me forever.”
Q3: What were your expectations heading into the season and how has your team handled the success so far?
A3: Tenorio-Toves: “I wasn’t expecting much from the season, but to play some rugby. My teammates are what made this team worthwhile with our hard work and dedication to not only the sport but to each other and it’s given us our fair share of success so far. As a team, we didn’t look too far into the future, we took every game step by step, meter by meter, play by play, and I would say that’s what kept us engaged. We told ourselves after someone scored that the game was still 0-0 and we still have a lot to do. We are very blessed that we made it this far, but none of us could have done it alone. It takes all of us. One hive, one family.”
Daga: “I was excited to see what the team could do this season. Coming back as a sophomore, I felt like this team could do big things. Our team has been very humble and deserving of the matches we’ve been winning. There’s always room for improvement, but we’ve been doing enough to get the results so far.”
Kaminanga: “My expectations heading into this season were to prove many things to myself and to others and to raise my game to a whole new level.”
Cabrera: “My expectations coming into this season were really just to get back into the game and to try and be a part of something great. I didn’t expect us to be this successful, but as we enjoy this success the job isn’t finished. We have goals this year and we can’t be complacent if we want to accomplish them.”
Q4: What do you know about Brown, your conference final opponents, and how do you guys feel heading into the match?
A4: Tenorio-Toves: “Brown is a very forward-focused team. They rely on the big boys to inflict damage and swing it out to their backs to try and finish it off. I believe our forwards can take on any other team’s forwards head-on, we just need to work as a collective to overcome this next obstacle. Our backs are relentless, not taking their foot off the gas pedal: ‘All gas, no breaks’ as they would say. We are very excited for what this game holds for us as we have been preparing all season for this opportunity. We believe the only thing that can stop us from being victorious would be ourselves. We need to stay disciplined and humble and if we can do that, and if it’s God’s will, then the path to victory is surely ours to take.”
Daga: “Our Brown matchup will be a forwards game as they do not rely on their back line as much, primarily focusing on their set pieces with their forward pack.”
Kamininga: “From watching film on Brown, they are a very aggressive team. As the No. 1 seed in our conference, they play off of their forwards and their number 10. I feel very confident with our squad just because of the way we have been training and the mindset coming into this game is locked in. We are ready, as we’ve been preparing for this game all season long. We just have to stay humble and prepared for anything we encounter.”
Cabrera: “We know that Brown is a very fit and aggressive team, but we feel great and we are ready to compete this Saturday at Fairfield University.
Q5: Playing college sports definitely takes discipline and commitment, so, first of all, ‘well done’ on accomplishing that milestone. But winning and success add to that, bringing more responsibility and even more commitment. How has juggling that impacted you all as individuals and if you could reflect on that experience, what would you say to aspiring Guam athletes looking to not only make the jump to college athletics, but looking to be a part of a winning team?
A5: Tenorio-Toves: “To all the young, talented athletes on Guam, never give up and always keep striving to be better. With hard work, dedication and willpower, anything and everything is possible. The only person that is going to stop you is yourself. Don’t give up, trust the process, and, in time, you will receive what you deserve. This is only the beginning: You have a long road ahead of you. Trust in the Lord and he will lead you to your destiny.”
Daga: “I am grateful for the opportunity that I have been given by the Lord above to play D1 rugby at the collegiate level. That being said, it’s very difficult to be a student-athlete in college because you have to work hard to balance the workload and you have to have good time-management skills. That being said, knowing when to make time to relax and have fun is another part of this journey. Stay committed and stay hungry to achieve your goals!”
Kaminanga: “To all the young athletes on the island: Keep pushing and continue to work hard as your hard work will soon be worth it. You can do anything you put your mind to, so never give up on your dreams and remember to keep smiling no matter what you’re going through. It’s never too late to rewrite your own story.”
Cabrera: “The grind of coming to college is a job in itself and that is the first task. Being a student-athlete is stressful but it’s definitely manageable if you stay on top of everything and fully commit yourself to whatever you do, whether that be playing or studying. It takes a lot of responsibility and commitment to be a student-athlete, but I would say: ‘All of that sacrifice is worth it in the end.’ Testing yourself in competition against so many different people in different places is great. As for being a part of a winning team, it takes everyone from the first to the last man doing their respective jobs. Aspiring athletes should not look to be a part of the team because they’re winning, but you should look to work and see what you can contribute to be a part of that winning team.”
Q6: If you guys win the conference final, what’s next for the team?
A6: Tenorio-Toves: “If we win, and praying that we do, the next step of the journey will be to prepare for the upcoming collegiate rugby championships (nationals). Our next match, after Brown, will be in the quarterfinals to see if we do qualify for nationals. But, like I said before, we need to take it one game at a time.”
Daga: “Not worried about what’s next, just focused on what’s in front of us, which is Brown. We can figure out what’s next after the task of playing Brown is finished.”
Kaminanga: “Our main focus is Brown, not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We can figure out what comes next after this task.”
Cabrera: “If we win this weekend, we are on to the next job!”