(Photo: Special to the Register)
Rugby season is in full swing, and the Ankeny Centennial Jaguars have come out of the gates red-hot.
The Jags have been pummeling teams and have won their first four matches by a combined score of 112-24. With the exception of a tightly contested 19-12 triumph over crosstown rival Ankeny, they’ve won all their matches by double-digit margins.
That early dominance is predicated on the success of last season’s state semifinals team; only one player graduated from that unit.
“These guys have the experience and have been under that pressure," head coach and executive director of the Iowa Youth Rugby Association Dennis Oliver said. "And a lot of that is carrying over from last year."
According to Oliver, there are two goals he has for this Jaguars team. One is to have fun; the other is to win a state championship.
“We always want to win a state championship," Oliver said. "Realistically, I think if we execute the basics really well, we can do that. But it’s going to come down to those tough games.”
Ankeny Centennial Lan Pruisner, a freshman in this Register file photo, controls the ball against the Dowling Catholic defense.
(Photo: Ken Sherman/Special to the Register)
It’ll be up to the team’s two captains, Lane Pruisner and Spencer Hilbert, to make sure things continue to run smoothly for the Jags.
Pruisner was a standout with the Jags wrestling squad this past winter. Oliver relishes the opportunity to coach standout wrestlers.
Junior captain Spencer Hilbert scores a try for the Jaguars.
(Photo: Timothy Lane/Special to the Register)
“Whenever I get a chance to coach a wrestling kid in rugby, I’m very, very eager and excited," Oliver said. "They’re excellent tacklers; they have that mind-set and work-ethic to get the job done. And to (Ankeny wrestling coach) Jack Wignall and (Centennial wrestling coach) Jay Groth’s credit, those wrestlers are already in very good shape coming into rugby.”
According to Oliver, Hilbert’s level head is his most unique trait.
“He always has a collected and cool demeanor, so when I choose captains, I like to choose guys that have a good demeanor and who know how to talk to the rest of the players and the referees,” Oliver said.
On Friday, the Jags will have two very tough games against teams that, like them, are state title title contenders — Iowa City (2-0) and Southeast Polk (4-0).
“Iowa City is always a tough team to play,” Oliver said. "They’re physical. They’re very well-coached and they know the technical areas of the game really well."
The Rams have been a juggernaut the last six years, winning a state title in each of them. They’ve only lost one match over that span of time; that was last season to Centennial.
“Obviously Southeast Polk is a big game,” Oliver said. “I know they’ll be looking to avenge the loss from last year, but we’ll be doing everything we can to be firing on all cylinders.”
Hawks rugby looks to rebound
It’s been a seesaw season for the Ankeny Hawks rugby team (2-2).
The two wins have been blowouts of Dowling Catholic, 14-0, and Des Moines Lincoln, 38-0. The two losses have come at the hands of Centennial and Roosevelt by a combined nine points.
Ankeny’s Colby Baugher works to out run East defenders in this Register file photo.
(Photo: Merle Laswell/For the Register)
But with players like Colby Baugher and Hunter Staab on the team, there’s reason to believe that record will favor the win column as the season wears on.
Baugher, a captain, is one of the state’s best players and has been with the club since eighth grade. He’ll play at Lindenwood University next season in Missouri — one of the nation’s top Division IA schools.
Ankeny’s Hunter Staab tackles East’s Frank Sawhill on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, during the Iowa High School Rugby semi-finals at the Des Moines Rugby Facilities in West Des Moines.
(Photo: Merle Laswell/For the Register)
“Colby is a very physical player, and this season more teams are focusing on him, knowing that he is a key playmaker; so he’s looking to distribute the ball more this season, whereas last season he had more of the green light. Now, he’s developing his game a little bit more because he’s going to play in college next year,” Oliver, who also coaches the Ankeny team, said.
Staab has been a part of the club since eighth grade and comes from a family with rugby experience. His mom played rugby in college.
“He’s a very passionate player and just has a good knowledge of the game,” Oliver said. “He’s able to speak to the referees in a calm and collected manner; I think a big part of that is his knowledge of the game, and another part of that is he is a referee himself.”
The 2-2 start for Baugher, Staab and Co. and may sting a little, but knowing that the losses have been close and have come at the hands of good teams takes away some of the sting.
“Knowing they’ve lost to good teams doesn’t make it as tough," Oliver said. "Against Roosevelt, we just didn’t have it, they made fewer mistakes than us. Both teams (Centennial and Roosevelt) are good teams."
“Once we had a chance to regroup our thoughts and feelings, we were in a good spot. They knew what they did wrong, and we have a plan on who we are as a team and how to build from there.”
The Hawks will look to put that new and improved mindset to the test Friday night in Newton when they face the Cardinals (1-3) and Iowa City (2-0).
“The goal for that is to go into those games with a new mindset; to have a plan on how they’ll attack the game, and focus on that piece,” Oliver said. “Not focusing as much on who the opponent is, but more who we are as a team.”