While most colleges are still wondering which teams might be available to play, the Hawks and the Gaels are going to mix it up in a preseason warmup at Iona that could tell us a lot about what their squads can offer.
St. Joe's is looking ahead to playing in the Keystone Conference again, where the Hawks enter as the favorites. Iona is part of the new Liberty Conference.
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Interestingly, St. Joe's still contributed players to the Liberty Conference All-Stars team that played the Texas All-Stars in Bermuda earlier this month, highlighted by a standout performance from the Hawks' Jimmy Wolfer.
St. Joseph's head coach Dan Yarusso said he's using this game as an extra opportunity to evaluate his squad.
"We had an excellent turnout for our first day of camp, and the guys are excited for the season," Yarusso said. "It is a bit early for a game, but our university allows us to move in early to get a jump on the season. Also gives our guys off for Labor Day weekend which most will spend at the Jersey Shore."
St. Joe's graduated a significant number of forwards, so it's important for returners such as utility forward George Harris and prop Nick Ballas (both juniors) to take leadership roles and raise their game.
The backs are solid. Wolfer returns for a fifth year, and Noah Niumataiwalu is looking to build off an excellent freshman year. St. Joe's also has some talented newcomers, such as Mark Dombroski (Archmere Academy), Ben Ehlers (Fairfield), and transfer Xavier Stewart.
For Iona, it has some important pieces of the puzzle returning. Scholz Award finalist Mike Scarcella is back for one more year, and Mike Marro is another returner. Santi Mascola was, like Niumataiwalu, a revelation as a freshman and is expected to be stronger this year.
Gaels head coach Bruce McLane used to coach at Xavier High School, and his former team's fingerprints are fairly heavy on both squads (although Bishop Hendricken has had its influence, too). Xavier product Conor Buckley will be a big addition at scrumhalf as a freshman.
"I coached Jimmy Wolfer in high school, and he's a fantastic player," McLane said. "I don't know Noah Niumataiwalu as a player, but I know his brother [Shelby, who plays for Penn State], and I know his dad [David, a former USA flyhalf], and they're fantastic. We're going to have a bunch of guys I went to high school with coming up to watch the game and I'm really excited."