Aided by some local players, Saratoga Jockeys sevens rugby team improving

Four rugby players pose

Four members of the Saratoga Jockeys sevens rugby team, including Glenville's Zachary Bessarab, second from right, and Schenectady's Rob Schippers, far right, hold the plate the team won at a tournament in Ireland earlier this spring.

CAPITAL REGION – A New York City transplant is hoping that rugby sevens catches on in this area. The signs are positive so far.

Lain Zembek, who moved to Cambridge, formed the Saratoga Jockeys sevens rugby team last year. Sevens is a variant of rugby in which teams are made up of seven players playing seven-minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players playing 40-minute halves.

Zembek was a veteran rugby player who wanted to compete at the highest level, but that required bringing in experienced players from throughout the country. The Jockeys competed in an international tournament in Grenada last December.

“We were not necessarily successful in terms of wins, but we showed we belonged. We finished last, but we beat the team from the [United Kingdom] that finished third overall,” Zembek said.

Zembek wanted to do more, so he worked hard for sponsorships on a national level and entered the Jockeys in the Kinsale 7s tournament in Kinsale, Ireland and the Eggchaser 7s and Oxford 7s tournaments in England in late April through mid-May.

By that time, he had several local players, including Schenectady’s Rob Schippers, Glenville’s Zachary Bessarab and Saratoga Rugby Club’s AJ Cioffi, as well as Dave Snyder and Tyler Callahan from Lake Placid/Saranac Lake area.

The Jockeys – who try to keep the Saratoga connection by having their uniforms resemble racing silks – finished fifth overall in the Kinsale tournament, and first in the men’s elite plate division.

“That was a huge accomplishment,” Zembek said. “From starting out 11 months prior to taking fifth in an international tournament was really cool.”

Zembek said that numbers are a struggle, but he is hopeful that more area people with rugby experience will consider joining the Jockeys, as well as developing more of a rugby culture in the area.

“We’re hoping to bring everybody up to that speed where our best guy is equal to the last guy in,” Zembek said.

The Jockeys’ summer schedule includes tournaments in Rockaway June 17, Newport, Rhode Island June 24 and the Saratoga Sevens Tournament July 8.

Categories: Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs, Sports

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