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Even though her first taste of professional rugby was met with extreme pain in the form of a season-ending injury, Hannah Stolba has stayed the course with the United States women’s national rugby team,
The former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep will appear on the Eagles squad at the women’s rugby World Cup in Paris, starting Friday.
Stolba tore her MCL five minutes into her first match with the U.S. squad, but she hasn’t stopped playing.
Stolba wasn’t introduced to the sport until after high school, joining the rugby team at Northern Iowa while red-shirting on the basketball team. Stolba got to play in the Division II national rugby championship at UNI and knew she wanted to continue playing after transferring to Minnesota State-Mankato to continue her basketball career.
“I talked to the Mankato coach about playing rugby in the off-season when I got there,” Stolba said. “She said, ‘yeah I think that’s great, I support that.’ So the first two years at Mankato I played in March and April. The following year I made the Minnesota select team. My senior year I was invited U-23 program in New Zealand.”
Part of group “B” in the World Cup, the United States will face Ireland, Kazakhstan and New Zealand — the reigning world champion — during group play.
And even though Stolba, a reserve fly-half for the squad, has reached the pinnacle of U.S. rugby, she said it might be time to hang up her boots when this World Cup ends. She lives in Denver and is an assistant coach with the University of Colorado women’s rugby team and said the physical sport has taken its toll on her body.
She wants to continue coaching at a high level, hoping to offer rugby to young girls — a luxury she didn’t have at Xavier.
“It was probably two or three years after I started playing I figured out what U.S. rugby was,” Stolba said. “Since then, for me, it has always been at the back of mind, everything I have done has been about rugby, it’s really just a culmination of the last 10 years of my life.
“I think about what could happen if rugby was offered at a younger age. I would have loved to play in high school, but I’m glad to have picked it up at all.”
Stolba believes the sport does have a strong future in the United States and is gaining greater recognition from colleges. She said it would be great for the NCAA to pick it up as a varsity sport to help participation numbers for Title IX, but Stolba acknowledged a strong showing from the U.S. team in Paris would help make the sport more recognizable.
“We play physical and play good defense,” Stolba said. “If we play our style of rugby, we can reach our goal of advancing to the semifinals or finals.”
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