Former assistant Lafayette rugby coach John Graeffe has never looked back since head coach Dan Benedict offered him a position on the team three years ago. But, after Benedict suffered from a brain aneurysm earlier last month, Graeffe is filling in as head coach in his abscene.
“I chose to coach at Lafayette for its storied history educational prowess and the commitment to rugby that Dan Benedict has so infectiously imbedded in all of us,” Graeffe said.
Graeffe was involved in athletics as a student. As an undergraduate, he was a Division I wrestler and went on to play rugby at the collegiate and senior levels as a graduate student in New York City.
He is no stranger to being a head coach. Graeffe’s first stint at coaching was as a Division 1 club wrestling coach, where he took one of his wrestlers to the NWCA Club National Tournament. Shortly after, Graeffe was hired as a wrestling coach at a local high school.
But after playing rugby for one season for a local senior team, Graeffe decided to stay within the sport and search for job coaching rugby. He has earned his level 100- level USA Rugby coaching certification and his 200-level certification.
“[I] began focusing my coaching career on the sport of rugby and haven’t looked back,” Graeffe said.
He has plenty of exposure to the sport. His father played overseas in the United Kingdom, earning his school’s colors—lettermen status.
“I have always been fascinated by the sport and the atmosphere that surrounds it,” Graeffe said. “Many of the teams in the US and any age level are club teams with athletes coming from all schools, areas and walks of life.”
Graeffe realizes the tremendous support the college and alumnus give to the club from his time at Lafayette. Prior to this semester, he said, Lafayette was the only team in their conference with their own field and goal posts, found at Metzger Fields. Visitors to the sports fields will often see the rugby team training among the other varsity sports that practice and compete at the complex.
In Graeffe’s tenure, the team has seen much success. Such accomplishments include leading the team to the playoffs for the last three years in 15-a-side play. In 2013, the team placed fourth at the USA Rugby Division II 7-a-side National Championship, and returned to the tournament the next year, placing 11th of 250 teams. The team went 6-2 in the fall and outscored opponents by a score of 184-123.
Graeffe is also impressed by the diversity of students participating with the club. They have players from the West Coast, Northeast and international students. The makeup of the team mirrors the popularity of rugby on a global scale—in 2016, the sport will officially become integrated into the Olympics.
This season, Graeffe hopes to build on the success the team had in the past and wants to improve at this year’s NSCRO tournament, where they will compete on a national stage and face some of the best small school teams in the country.
Besides improving the team, Graeffe will seek to live up to the standard that his mentor, Benedict, set.