By Benjamin Cohn
Raleigh – N.C. State’s Rugby squad took home their Division’s National Title earlier this month, winning at least eight regular-season matches and six playoff matches. Caleb Gwaltney, a 22-year-old NC State graduate student and North Buncombe High alumnus, along with David Levezzo, also a North Buncombe graduate, were part of the winning squad.
Gwaltney told the Tribune about the journey to get to the national title from his perspective. He revealed that, although athletic in his formative years, he had never played rugby before transferring to N.C. State from Mars Hill University.
“I went my freshman year to Mars Hill,” he said. “After my first year I transferred to NC State. My friend David, who I played ball with at North Buncombe, his roommate, when he came to college, played rugby. He got David to play and once I got here, he got me to play.”
The national champion told the Tribune that he’d played baseball as a boy but played football and wrestled while in high school. Gwaltney said he’s played rugby for four years now. He described what he called a “culture change” taking place upon his arrival.
“When I first got here, the program was going through a culture change. We started really getting serious about rugby. The past couple years, we’ve made the round of eight but we’ve never been able to make it past that,” said Gwaltney. “We’ve just always struggled with issues of depth and things like that. This year, it all kind of worked for us. We finally had some depth. The team just worked really well.”
A huge part of the team’s success, according to Gwaltney, is owed to exchange students from European nations. “We’ve got some transfer students from overseas that are just incredible players. We have at least five players from Ireland, two of whom are starters. We had a player from England who played for us and was good. We really meshed.”
Other factors that contributed to the team’s national title were utilization of N.C. State’s professional-quality video playback and rehabilitative facilities.
“This was the year we finally started watching film,” he said. “We got in the weight room and we just kind of put it all together for it to work out. Basically, it was available at the institution, but we just didn’t take advantage of all that.”
He described the low morale and success of the squad upon transferring from Mars Hill. “My sophomore [year] was probably the worst year we had. I think we went four and two. My junior year, we were undefeated that season until playoffs [when] we started getting decimated by injuries.”
“We realized after that year that we gotta make a change to make sure that we’re making it all the way through the season. This year, we just decided to change it up.”
The 2018 season concluded earlier this month when N.C. State’s Rugby squad went nearly undefeated in the regular season and totally undefeated in the playoffs. Gwaltney outlined for the Tribune the team’s progress throughout the season.
“During the [regular] season, we went eight and one. We have two teams, so we have an “A” side and a “B” side. The “A” side team is essentially varsity, your first 23 players play on that side. And the “B” side is the backup. Our “V” side, we lost one game to Navy’s “B” side. In mid-November we played two playoff games in two days. We won those. This past weekend, for the finale, [December 2] we won two games in two days. I think we went about 14 and 0.”
Gwaltney left the interview with warm words of camaraderie and team pride. “Overall, this is just a great institution. I’ve loved my time here. I love my teammates, I love our fans, our parents and stuff like that. I just think that it all came together.”
“The team we put together was just incredible, and I can’t be more thankful.”