By Liam Poach
As the ‘Interview Summer Series’ continues here at Penguin Tundra, I’m going to stick a little closer to home on this next one. For those who have read my writing or have heard me spew boat loads of post-D1 Championship smack-talk on EOD, you know that I’m a supporter of the Malden, MA-based Mystic River Rugby Club, who just took home the D1 Club Championship for the second time in three years under the leadership of Coach Josh Smith. Not only because it’s the most likely club to help incubate an MLR franchise here in Boston, but I find the organization as a whole pretty relatable: Not quite from BOSTON, Boston, but close enough that you may as well be.
In the interest of shining some light on an ascending young-athlete representing the Monsters of Malden in the MLR, I have turned this week to Diego Maquieira of the Houston SaberCats for answers.
This past season, Diego made his presence felt at hooker, usually in second-half relief of Lindsey Stevens, but with a few starts along the way. However, don’t let the fact that he wasn’t always the first on the field give you the wrong impression. When Coach Fitzpatrick let this dog off the leash, he intended for it to be mean, and aggressive.
And that’s the impression that you get when you watch Diego play. Off the pitch, I guarantee you’ve never met a nicer guy, but when he has the ball in hand, he has a bullish mentality using a thick, well-built frame to blow through first and second tackle attempts, as well as making a fair few of his own on defense.
Wanting to know more, I caught up with the rugger originally from Flushing, NY over email, and I learned what’s good. Here. You read now. Why say lot word when few word do trick?
Liam: What initially gave you your passion for playing rugby?
Diego: I was always a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing everything under sun. I went on to pursue football in college at Bucknell University, where I was a linebacker. After my freshman year, I decided to transfer to Northeastern University, who at the same time had announced they were canceling their football program. So my plan was to try out for the baseball team that fall.
However, one day during the summer before heading off to Northeastern, I ended up watching the World Series Sevens circuit and remember wondering if there was a team I could join. It just so happened that the Northeastern Rugby team would be starting their preseason when I was to arrive for orientation, and luckily they were more than happy to have me stop by. I showed up in flip flops, but the coach somehow convinced me to put on his spare cleats from the trunk of his car and join the guys. Needless to say, I never went to that baseball tryout after that.
Liam: What kind of things did you learn under Josh Smith during your time with Mystic River? What is it about Mystic River Rugby that makes you want to come back and compete for them like you recently did for their 7’s side?
Diego: Josh has always been good to me as a coach and mentor, but in ways that I probably didn't appreciate enough during my time there. He definitely was tough on me, as he expected a lot out of me, but he also helped fuel my competitive fire. I definitely grew up as an athlete thanks to him. He also has good understanding of the 'dark arts' and helped me develop many of those skills needed from a hooker/flanker in the modern game.
Aside from that, Mystic River has been my family since I graduated from college (longer if you consider Middlesex before the merger). We came together in 2016 to win the first National Championship in team history, and are always competitive in 7s. There's definitely a good thing going on there in terms of club culture and structure, and that's what brings me back. 7s was the reason I ever came to find rugby in the first place, so it's always fun to come back to that.
Liam: How did the opportunity to join the Houston SaberCats come about for you?
Diego: When MLR and the SaberCats (then Strikers) were in early stages, I reached out to Coach Fitzpatrick with my CV and game film. We had previously known each other through the Serevi/Atavus set up, and he had seen me playing in College. While we chatted for a few weeks, non-rugby factors were lining up perfectly, and so we worked out a plan to get me down to Houston.
Liam: What was your first impression of the team and its culture?
Diego: I was definitely surprised by the talent and athleticism that Fitzy brought in. It was clear from the beginning that this was a different level from what I was used to. Since this was a brand new organization and the majority of the players barely knew each other, the culture was entirely to be determined at the time. But unsurprisingly, everyone was incredibly competitive and spirited in training, but also very interested in creating a strong team identity off the pitch. I couldn't have asked for a better group of characters.
Liam: What do you think of Coach Fitz and his training methods?
Diego: Well, knowing Fitzy's background as an international prop and USA forwards coach, I was excited to learn from the best and he didn't disappoint. I definitely grew leaps and bounds in my skills as a hooker, and probably grew more so in my mental preparation as a professional. Fitzy knew that guys like myself would be transitioning from 2 sessions a week to sometimes 8 or more, and he methodically constructed the year to accommodate for that. I really learned what it meant to be a professional, something that I think I (and others) will benefit from in our next season.
Liam: Do you prefer playing hooker or flanker?
Diego: I definitely enjoy playing flanker, but I've grown to love playing hooker. I love the set piece and value its importance in a match. Modern hookers also are often looked at as a 4th loose forward, but with the added responsibilities in the set piece.
Liam: What do you think was the biggest disconnect between your team’s successes in the exhibition season vs the poor results of the regular season?
Diego: It's easy to look at the records and think that something went horribly wrong, but all things considered, I believe that the team had a tremendous amount of growth from January through June. Obviously every team is measured by their record, but I think if you look at the tightness of some of those results and some of the quality rugby that was played throughout the year, there is a lot to be excited about.
You also have to consider the quality of our opponents, because regardless of what anyone thought prior to the season starting, every MLR team was incredibly competitive, and the in-form teams changed throughout the course of the season. I believe that with a season under our belt, we will be able to draw from that experience as a foundation and build on our consistency.
Liam: What’s one thing the ‘Cats do well that they can build upon for future?
Diego: We definitely were a dominant scrum, which sets up our dynamic back line. If we find consistency in our lineout, we have the potential to be a threat there, as well. One of the more 'exciting' things, was we we're strong in was our aerial game, including attacking box kicks and cross kicks. We definitely have threats all over the pitch, but just like any new team, there were some inconsistencies in our performance.
Liam: If you had to choose an uncapped player to get their first call up, who would it be and why?
Diego: Cecil Garber. There isn't a tougher guy on any team and his work rate is top notch. He's exactly what you want out of your flanker.
Liam: How would you compare Boston rugby fans to Houston rugby fans?
Diego: It's probably hard to compare since Boston doesn't have professional rugby, but I think Houston's got a huge advantage in that casual sports fans have been incredibly welcoming of the team. We had people buying season tickets without ever having watched a rugby match in their lives! That's mind-blowing to me. They're so passionate about sports and their city and they threw their support around us.
Boston rugby fans are a pretty tight knit community with deep rooted rivalries, so they can get nasty at games. Houston rugby fans came together for us, and they were one of the more pleasant crowds in the MLR, in my opinion.
Liam: What’s your favorite place to eat in Boston? In Houston?
Diego: I'm big on brunch and love Alden & Harlow's in Boston (Cambridge, actually) and The Breakfast Klub in Houston.
Liam: Whiskey or beer?
Diego: Whiskey is great, but beer is better.
Liam: Would you rather be a Jedi or a Wizard?
Diego: Jedi, because lightsabers.
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Penguin Tundra Sports Blog was created in 2016 by a very bored college student who was obsessed with Rugby and Football. That same college student knew how to write pseudo-intelligently, so what better way to show off than to create a blog. Along your journey though the Tundra's domain, you may come across outlandish opinions, horrible spelling errors, and some shit that is just outright wrong. Well then, you should comment, give my blog more attention, and we will have our day in internet court. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy talking about sports as much as I do.
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