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Sierra rugby club earns respect

By: Sara Seydin, Gold Country Media Service
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Some people say rugby is a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen. Others say it’s a gentlemen’s sport played by hooligans. The Sierra College rugby club is out to change the perceptions of rugby in the United States. The Wolverines have even instituted a monetary fine for cursing. As they prepare for the U.S. Collegiate Division II Final Four in Pennsylvania, they are determined to prove that good sportsmanship doesn’t make them any less competitive. The Wolverines will face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for the Division II West Coast title on Saturday. Sierra will earn a shot at a national title in the East vs. West championship game on Sunday if it can defeat Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks are the top-ranked Division II team, according to rugbymag.com. The Wolverines are No. 4. Second-ranked Middlebury of Vermont will face No. 3 Salisbury of Maryland in the East Coast final. Sierra is the only two-year college team to reach the Final Four, and coach Michael Taylor is proud of that. The Wolverines advanced through the Sweet 16 by posting victories over Pepperdine and Fullerton State in San Diego. “Our talent is we are very fast, play very fit, very aggressive rugby,” Taylor said. 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.” Although Taylor said beating Wisconsin-Whitewater is going to be difficult, his team is ready for the challenge. Challenges are nothing new for the Wolverines, who have to raise money to sustain the club because rugby is not an official sport at the college. “It forced us to kind of band together,” club president Steve Kenny said. Kenny, who played football at Nevada Union High School, said he hopes to leave a more sustainable system for next year’s team — along with a national championship 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.” Kenny and teammate Brian Weddle agreed that the club’s camaraderie goes beyond the norm. Weddle said his coach’s advice has been critical to the club’s 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.” The Wolverines not only want a national title for themselves, but they also want it for Taylor. “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.”