CEDAR RAPIDS — Another year, another shot at a state championship.
That, according Coach Patrick Lausen, is the goal for his Washington High School rugby team.
“We want to win (our conference) division so we can get an automatic bid to state,” Lausen said. “Once we get to state, our goal is to win the championship.”
Washington — which has players from Linn-Mar and Marion, as well as Washington — plays as part of the Iowa Youth Rugby Association. The group plays rugby sevens in the rugby union style. That means it has most of the same rules as rugby union, except the games are a total of two seven-minute halves (standard rugby games have two 80-minute halves) and instead of the standard 15-on-15, there are only seven players on each side.
Fewer players and shorter games make the “sevens” faster and each player’s role more vital.
Many players are attracted to rugby because of the pace and the teamwork, including Brady Merrifield, a senior at Marion.
“I like how tough it is, how fast-paced it is,” Merrifield said. “It incorporates a lot of teamwork.”
Other players are attracted to the social aspect, including Kai Wynkoop, a sophomore at Linn-Mar.
“Everyone has fun while playing it,” Wynkoop said. “It’s a good way to meet people.”
Rugby also can function as a secondary sport for football players and other athletes.
That is the case for Tavius Sykora-Matthess and Joshua Bliss, a senior and a junior, respectively, at Washington.
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“It helps with your tackling and your overall speed and stamina,” Sykora-Matthess said.
Bliss said rugby helps him with his tackling skills, and also mentioned the conditioning element of rugby.
“It gets me conditioned, so I’m not sitting around getting all out-of-shape,” Bliss said.
According to Lausen, those results were borne out on the gridiron.
“(Sykora-Matthess) and Bliss went back last year and really increased their ability on the football field in terms of tackle accumulations,” Lausen said.
Rugby is a growing sport, with four teams, according to Lausen, added to the Iowa Youth Rugby Association this year — Fort Dodge, Norwalk, Columbus and Crestwood. Kennedy and Iowa City also have teams in the IYRA.
While rugby is becoming more popular in Iowa, Lausen expressed the goal was not to compete with football.
“I think we could be another sport that helps football,” Lausen said. “I don’t think we necessarily need to compete with them. That’s not the mind-set that we have.”
Whatever mind-set Lausen has about promoting the sport, his primary focus remains winning it all.