St. Pius X Rugby on the Move
In less than three years, St. Pius has built one of the most underrated high school rugby programs in Texas.
The Panthers claimed the Texas Youth Rugby Association's Texas High School Rugby Conference Division II state title in only their second season. Now, St. Pius is eyeing the ultimate prize — the Division I crown.
New head coach Lowell Locke, who helped build St. Thomas' program as an assistant coach before spending the past two seasons at Westside, has wasted no time leaving his own imprint at St. Pius.
"I've brought a brand new philosophy and different way of doing things," Locke said. "There's been an adjustment period, as you might expect. Fortunately, the players were already fundamentally sound. I'm trying to get them to be a little more mechanical in what they do and not rely on their instincts."
Although St. Pius has dropped a few Southern District games, the Panthers turned in one of their finest all-around performances in a 48-7 rout against San Antonio Alamo Heights. They also split a pair of contests over spring break to New Orleans, La., falling to Archbishop Shaw 47-26 before holding off Brother Martin 26-25.
"That's the first time St. Pius has made a road trip like that," Locke said. "We played against the No. 2 and 3 teams from Louisiana and competed at a high level."
Locke said the Panthers' main focus is improving their seeding for the upcoming THSRC State Tournament the weekend of April 16-17 in Houston. St. Texas playoffs. St. Pius' showdown at St. Thomas at 7 p.m. Friday, April 8, might be the biggest game of the year.
"The top teams from the South District go to Division I and the rest go to Division II," Locke said. "Obviously, we're shooting for Division I."
Locke said senior captain Matthew Schick is St. Pius' best player. Schick, who plays the No. 8 position, leads the Panthers' attack.
"Matt is the last man out of the scrum. He's the one who binds everything together," Locke said.
"He scores a lot off broken plays. He makes things happen."
Senior fly half Joseph Wolfe has become one of the Panthers' most reliable performers.
"Joseph is a key player for us, both offensively and defensively," Locke said. "He's the one who gets us organized. He very rarely makes a mistake."
Senior Hunter Auth has emerged on the front now. Locke called Auth a "lanky player who is surprisingly strong."
Locke praised junior flanker Tim Vachon, noting that he is grooming him to take over for Schick next season.
Other standouts include senior prop Jordan Critchlow and freshman wing Grant Nippler, a rising star that Locke called "remarkably skilled for his age."
Locke said he is excited about the growth of rugby at St. Pius and feels it's only matter of time before the Panthers become one of the state's elite teams.
Rugby is back in a big way at St. Pius
Second-year head coach Larry Monks says interest in the St. Pius X Rugby Football Club is at an all-time high, with more than 40 players in the program.
“We are able to have two sides this year, which was one of our goals,” said, Monks, alluding to the Panthers' varsity and junior varsity teams.
Just as importantly, Monks was thrilled to see several hundred fans at the Panthers' recent home game against district foe Kingwood, which St. Pius lost 27-12 at Parsley Field.
“That's the biggest crowd we've had so far,” Monks said. “The word's getting out.”
Fans love to root for a winner and few teams have improved as fast as St. Pius.
Last season, the Panthers started off 0-5, losing each game by 40 or more points. But they turned the corner with a 25-17 victory over San Antonio Alamo Heights, putting together a five-game winning streak that ended with a 42-7 loss to Kingwood in the Texas High School Rugby Conference State Championships.
Monks said the expectations have increased exponentially after last year's 5-6 finish. St. Pius now believes it has the chance to claim the THSRC state title.
“We have a strong core group of players who are really gung-ho about rugby,” Monks said. “They also can play.”
The results this season have been encouraging. Prior to their recent loss to Kingwood , the Panthers' varsity shut out Westside 12-0 and rallied for a 12-12 tie against Alamo Heights in a conference game.
Senior captain Eric Aguilera, the starting flyhalf, is one of St. Pius' top players. Aguilera, a member of the Texas Select Team last year, has scored a pair of tries.
“Eric loves the game, competes hard and keeps everyone around him motivated,” Monks said of Aguilera.
Junior captain Matt Schick, who plays the Number 8 position, and junior Daniel Stephens, an outside center, have excelled for the Panthers. Schick and Stephens compete for the Houston Stormers' under-17 club team.
“Matt has really picked up the game quickly. He has a lot of natural ability,” Monks said. “Daniel is a heady player and has the ability to read where the defense is and find openings on offense.”
Junior Jordan Critchlow, a flanker, has emerged as one of St. Pius' most explosive offensive performers. Critchlow scored two tries against Kingwood.
“Jordan has really stepped out of the shadows lately,” Monks said.
St. Pius has picked up athletes from other sports who have demonstrated a knack for rugby. Senior fullback Gary Nelson has a soccer background, while junior inside center Ryland Gimenez and junior flanker C.J. Martinez played football for the Panthers.
“Gary's soccer skills have helped him in rugby. He has a strong leg and can kick long,” Monks said. “Ryland and C.J. are tough, hard-nosed players, which comes from playing football.”
Sophomore wing D'ante Breaux is an up-and-coming player with notable skills. Breaux is a member of the under-17 Houston All-Stars.
“D'ante still has a lot to learn, but it won't take him long,” Monks said. “He has what it takes to become a great rugby player.”
While the loss to Kingwood hurt, Monks said St. Pius should be a factor in the THSRC's seven-team Southern District, which includes Kingwood, Memorial, St. Thomas, Strake Jesuit, Tomball and Westside.
“I believe we can hang with every team in our district,” Monks said. “I'm excited to see where the season takes us.”