Eleven years ago, Anif McDonald ’12 and Mike Sullivan ’12 were seniors at Xaverian.They were close friends and teammates. Anif was president of the student council; Mike was vice president. But Mike was captain of the varsity rugby team and Anif wasn’t a captain at all; he was the starting hooker. Now Anif is Xaverian’s Director of Community, Culture, and Equity, but he’s still playing second fiddle to Mike on the rugby pitch. Or that’s how they’d sell it as they joke good naturedly with each other. Mike is Xaverian’s Head Coach for varsity rugby, and Anif is one of his assistant coaches. Regardless of the ribbing, it’s clear that their vivid memories of donning the X rugby shirts and scrum caps give them a heartfelt appreciation for their role as coaches now, and for working with each other.
The Xaverian rugby program formally joined the school’s competitive athletic offerings in 2008-2009, and at the time, Mike andAnif were freshmen who got in on the ground floor with the inaugural team. “We had some pretty legit coaching,” says Mike. Judah Boulet, an international
level rugby referee, was the head coach, while Amy Daniels, an Olympic player for women’s rugby assisted. Anif adds, “Coach Boulet was pioneering rugby to be a sport that students at Xaverian could feel proud about playing. He put rugby on the map for us.Out of the 25 guys we played with on our varsity squad, I’d say that realistically 15 went on to play college rugby and some of those were at the Division 1 level.”
After Coach Bouletmoved on (he is now the head coach of men’s rugby at Bryant University), the program struggled to find its footing for a few years.The Hawks rugby program had roughly 18-20 students only two years ago. Mike was an assistant coach at the time, and was also coaching Xaverian football at the seventh and eighth grade level. Now, under Mike’s leadership as head rugby coach, they’re up to 54 Hawks on the roster.
“I joke with the other rugby coaches in the league that the best thing I ever did for varsity rugby was start to coach middle school football,” says Mike. He gets to know students early on in their Xaverian career, build a rapport, and plug his program.WithAnif’s dual roles in the
Office for Community, Culture, and Equity and in the admissions office, the two know many Hawks well both inside and outside of athletics.This familiarity has helped to expand the rugby roster and to form that unique relationship between coach and athlete that translates to success on the pitch. “I don’t know where the program would be today if we weren’t working in tandem,” says Anif. “It’s a big commitment, but it seems like God threw it into our hands and said, ‘You guys can make this work.’ It’s a hard game to love if you don’t have someone leading from the front.We had a coach who loved us, so we loved the game. As we’re coaching now, we’re keeping that Xaverian family and brotherhood together. We tell the guys before every game: ‘Look at the X on the person’s chest next to you - that’s what you’re playing for.’We want them to play with purpose, and play for one another.”
Coaching together after years as classmates, teammates, and friends, means a great deal to both Anif and Mike. “To be able to coach with him and be beside him, to be able to lead the next generation of rugby players here at Xaverian and watch the program go from rags to riches in the last five years, and to watch Sully (Mike) working with the program that whole time, seeing how far the program has come and how it’s evolved—it means everything,” says Anif.
“We have a teammate and classmate mentality.There’s no way I could trust him more,” says Mike. “Our hearts are in it. We want the kids to have that same great program we did, that same camaraderie that we were able to experience during our high school years.”
This spring, the varsity rugby team put their talent on display and proved their grit in a real comeback story for the program. They went 4-2 in the regular season and were one of only four teams in Division 1 of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) to earn enough points to qualify for postseason play. The Hawks closed out their season with a strong performance in the state semifinals and look forward to competing again in 2024.
“We often put it to the guys, ‘Why not us?’,’ says Anif. “If we continue to play our game with the X over our hearts, there’s nothing that can stand in our way.”