Local players tackling sport of rugby

Plateau-based rugby program coming into its own.

Casey Smith breaks free with the ball during rugby action at last season's Prezfest tournament.

Lingering snow on the field at Bonney Lake High nixed the first practice of the season for the Plateau Rainier Junior Rugby team, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the upcoming season.

The team draws footballers from Enumclaw, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps and Sumner.

“We’re all from different areas,” Enumclaw High senior Casey Smith said, “but it takes us about four seconds to mesh.”

Smith and Calum Ramsay, a senior at Bonney Lake High, have been with the program the four years, since its inception. In a team that lost more than a dozen to graduation, they are cornerstones to rebuilding the team.

“They were literally one and two,” coach Andy Ramsay said of the boys. “They’ve been there through the highs and lows.

“They’ve done a lot of things off the field to lead the program,” said Ramsay, who is Calum’s father. “That first year I preached, ‘set the tone for the program’ and they really have.”

The team took its lumps the first year and then the division changed and it took a pounding. The past two years the team is gaining ground and made the playoffs last season.

“In two years we went from nobodies to a team other teams have to look at,” Smith said. “We made a name for ourselves.”

Rugby is drawing a lot of interest these days. It’s the latest Olympic sport. It’s action-packed. It’s continuous, aerobic, inclusive and uses power, agility, strength and speed.

That’s what draws Smith and the younger Ramsay.

“Anyone who would enjoy football would love this sport,” Calum Ramsay said. “It’s really a unique sport. It contains so many aspects you’d find in other sports.”

“I liked the way it looked, the way it played,” said Smith, who plays football for EHS. “It doesn’t stop. It’s continually going.”

He likes that loose, go-with-the-flow aspect with players the ability to be offensive and defensive without leaving the pitch.

In Rugby, he said, coaches prepare players and then it’s up to the players to control the game. In football, coaches call the plays.

Coach Ramsay admits the sport is not for everyone. That’s why he offers no-obligation opportunities to give it a try.

“It’s not for everyone, but our success rate is pretty high,” he said.

He encourages players to see if it’s something they would like, if nothing else, to come watch.

The team practices Mondays and Wednesday, most often at BLHS. A schedule and information is available at www.rainierjuniorrugby.com.

The team hosted the Beaverton Barbarians from Oregon at Sunset Chev Stadium in January then traveled to Oregon, see inset. They are also hoping to make another trek to Canada in April to compete, but most of the competition is local. The program is governed by USA Rugby and Rugby Washington with 10 teams playing in the South Division with the Plateau team.

The goal, coach Ramsay said, is to have two teams – a U16 and U19 – but so far he’s only been able to put together a U19 and pick up some junior varsity competition for those who are not quite there.

He’s always actively recruiting, but this year the team was hit hard by graduation. Three of the dozen or so graduates are playing at college. One at the University of Washington, another at Washington State University and Jake Christiansen from Enumclaw at West Point.

Ramsay and Smith plan to continue their careers at college, too. “It will be a sad day when they leave, they’ve been there from the start,” coach Ramsay said.

Highlanders win again

For the second-straight year, the Rainier Highlander high school rugby team swept the Prezfest tournament with an impressive 5-0 record.

The Bonney Lake-based team traveled to Beaverton, Ore., to the Barbarian-hosted tournament Feb. 12 and 13.

The Highlanders played three teams, winning both games on Day 1 and Day 2. Tries were scored by Ray McNabb, Louis Henson and Drue Hart among others. This is the Highlanders fourth year at the tournament which hosts teams from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and according to coach Andy Ramsay the first year the team has taken home a piece of club “silverware” in the form of plaque as event winners.

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