By Anthony Costello, May 2015 Issue.

While training and practice are necessary contingents for success in sport, the success of a team isn’t always measured in goals scored or wins tabulated. It’s heart, spirit, chemistry and dedication that make a team successful – just ask the Phoenix Storm Rugby Football Club.

With the addition of several players and a change at the coaching position, the 2015 season served as learning experience for everyone wearing the Storm uniform.

Toward the end of the 2015 season, veteran player Steve Enteman replaced retiring coach Mike Fortey. Enteman, who has played for the Storm since 2008, didn’t waste any time getting to work in his new role. His top priority: getting the rookies up to speed.

“The win is less of a concern this year, I’m more concerned with skill building,” Enteman said. “We had so many new guys this season, and the reality is skill building is more of a victory than actually winning the game.”

The Storm currently has 12 active players, just three short of the 15-man team requirement, who have been playing modified 10-on-10 games. According to Enteman, the fewer players on the field, the more physically demanding the game is, adding that 10-on-10 games require a completely different strategic approach.

“There’s been some limitations with the number of teammates ... which [results in] team members having to cover more ground; it’s a huge handicap especially if the other team can compensate for that and use it against you,” Enteman said. “But it’s a learning experience in controlling the ball, tackling and field position, and that’s where I saw guys really starting to step up in that situation.”

To get both experienced and new members prepared for the season, the Storm has built a partnership with the Camelback Rugby Club over the past two years, exchanging members to fill their A- and B-side teams.

“A-side is the ‘A-team’ so to speak, the B-side is for those just learning the sport,” said co-captain and Storm veteran Tony Alonzo. “When we play games with Camelback, the A-side is mostly their team with a few of our experienced players … the B-sides are typically filled with rookies who are in their first season, getting their experience.”

This divided focus allows the experienced members to build upon their existing skillsets, Alonzo explained, while the new members can start forming the foundations of their own skills with other players who share similar levels of experience.

Thanks to the symbiotic partnership with Camelback, Enteman said he is already seeing vast improvements in the new players.

“Maintaining ball possession, how to defend the ball, running and contact … those are the beginning keys to rugby right there … those are the three main areas that teams need to master,” Enteman said, adding that he’s already seen players start to improve upon those skills.

Photo by Bill Gemmill.

Although Enteman has several years of experience playing rugby with the Storm, Camelback and other teams, he said coaching is an entirely new learning experience.

“It was easy for me to step into [this role], but for me personally I’m struggling with stepping away from being a player,” he said. “Now I’m the guy giving instructions on the field, so that changes the dynamic.”

Enteman said his relationship with Alonzo eases some of the pressure of coaching.

“Tony’s a leader on and off the field,” he said. “I’ve known him throughout this entire time so our relationship is very strong.”

Alonzo expressed that he enjoys his position as co-captain, providing leadership on the field and collaborating with Coach Enteman.

“I’m the guy they look to if they have questions about plays; I keep the line of communication open between the team and the coach,” Alonzo said. “I give them the breakdown on practices, where games are, what to expect, that kind of stuff.”

Enteman also spoke positively of Alonzo’s fellow co-captain of the Storm Marquelus Graham and his contributions to the team.

“Marquelus is a good, strong player who played with Camelback,” Enteman said,

“I’m just starting to build that coach/co-captain relationship with him.”

The Storm’s 2015 season is now coming to a close, culminating in the Magnitude 15 tournament ( Memorial Day weekend in Seattle. The International Gay Rugby tournament, sponsored by the Seattle Quake, will host teams from the western half of the United States and Canada in a round-robin format.

According to Alonzo, his torn shoulder tendon won’t stop him from playing in the tournament.

“I’m not worried … but if it’s going to cause further damages I won’t play, but usually I just do it,” Alonzo said, adding that the team is otherwise healthy. “There’s always going to be some bruise, cut or scrape or something … maybe even a black eye.”

In retrospect, Enteman is pleased with the Storm’s overall performance throughout the season, and is already planning areas of focus for the team to concentrate on heading into the next season.

“Our first goal is to gain numbers,” he said. “Next is to continue building basic skills, and that’s my primary focus ... wins are always our focus, but the realistic goal is to just get points on the board and play solid games is what matters more.”

The team’s heart, spirit, chemistry and dedication, Enteman and Alonzo agreed, are also attributes the players will continue to build on.

“I don’t think I’d ever change anything about the team,” Alonzo said. “We tend to stick together a lot more and I like our family dynamic.”

Enteman echoed Alonzo sentiments on the team’s camaraderie.

“You have to work together at all levels to be successful; this isn’t an individual’s game,” Enteman said. “Getting a good cohesive group together, with the right level of camaraderie ... the social aspect is crucial.”

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