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Wolverines headed to rugby Final Four

By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Rugby — Some people say it’s a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen. Other people say it’s a gentlemen’s sport played by hooligans. The Sierra College rugby team is out to change those ornery perceptions of rugby in the U.S. The Wolverines have even instituted a monetary fine for cursing. With an upcoming trip to the U.S. Collegiate Division II Final Four in Pennsylvania, they prove that having manners on the field doesn’t make them any less competitive. The “ruggers” will go head-to-head against the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater for the Division II West Coast title Saturday, April 30. Sierra will have its chance at a national title in the East vs. West championship game on May 1 if it can claim the West Coast title. Sierra coach Dr. Michael Taylor said he has a full line-up of talented athletes. Most of the 22-man team has played rugby before. Many from the Golden Eagles Club based in Loomis, including Jordan Raty and Justin Marchal. Other locals playing for the Wolverines are Del Oro graduate Blake Landry and Colfax graduates Larry Wooten and Robin Proffitt. “We have the advantage that 16 have played rugby in the valley,” Taylor said. “Our talent is we are very fast, play very fit, very aggressive rugby. I don’t think a lot of people realize the magnitude of what we have done. We are beating four-year colleges who have been in existence for years.” With just two practices a week, Taylor takes advantage of every second he gets with his players. His philosophy is to run them hard. “When we practice we run for 40 minutes. The word jog does not exist in my vocabulary,” Taylor said. “We do sprints, pyramids, non-stop for 40 minutes. I think that’s why we win.” While Taylor said beating Wisconsin is going to be difficult, his team is up for the challenge. Part of that challenge has also meant raising all of their own support. Because of Title 9 restrictions mandating that there be a balanced number of male and female sports, rugby can’t become an official sport at Sierra. To keep the program running they have had a crab feed and barbeques on campus, among other fundraisers. “We aren’t really getting a lot of outside support or inside support from Sierra,” said Sierra College Rugby Club President Steve Kenny. “It forced us to kind of band together.” Kenny, who played football at Nevada Union, said he hopes to leave a more sustainable system for next year’s team — along with a national championship title to defend. “Getting the word out about the sport of rugby is what is paramount to me,” Kenny said. “To be on a national level is incredible. You feel elated and excited to know that out of 2,000 or 1,000 miles you are on par with the best.” Kenny and teammate Brian Weddle agree that the camaraderie on their team goes beyond the norm. Weddle said his coach’s advice has been critical to their success. “Our coach always tells us that you play rugby how you play life,” Weddle said. “Stay organized, make good decisions. If you are selfish in rugby, then you are selfish in life.” Weddle said that at the national level of competition all of the athletes will be skilled, but he believes it is Sierra’s mental game that will earn them a championship. For him, a national championship would be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I want it really bad and I want everyone on my team to experience it,” Weddle said. “That would be the greatest gift we could give (Taylor) — is a national championship.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.