WATERLOO – It’s rough and rugged. And fast and furious.
Rugby 7s is a high-octane, hard-hitting sport that is not for the timid.
An aggressive, attacking and go-for-broke mentality is essential to survive and thrive.
The Waterloo Rugby Club understands that completely.
The high school team comprised of players from Columbus and West is one of the best in Iowa. And they are taking aim at a second consecutive state championship.
The Waterloo Rugby Club is off to an 9-2 start and will be one of the favorites to win a Class 1A title in less than a week.
“Our goal is to go back-to-back,” Waterloo Rugby Club coach Kaleb Boleyn said. “We want to win state again. That’s what drives us. We’re excited to have the opportunity to win it again.”
Rugby is not sanctioned by the Iowa High School Athletic Association. It is sponsored by the Iowa Youth Rugby Association.
The 15-player Waterloo squad is coming off a pair of hard-fought games it played against Cedar Falls and Waverly-Shell Rock on Friday night at historic Sloane Wallace Stadium.
Waterloo rolled to a 31-5 win over Cedar Falls before dropping a tough 14-12 decision to W-SR late Friday night.
Now Waterloo turns its focus to the state tournament, beginning this Friday in Bondurant.
The team’s roster is comprised of 13 players from Columbus and two from West. All 15 athletes have a football background, helping with the transition to rugby with the sports sharing many similarities.
“Our team has played really well – they won their first eight games,” Boleyn said. “They trust each other and have great team chemistry. They hang out a lot together off the field and are good friends.”
That bond has served the team well in a unique sport. Rugby 7s consists of two seven-minute halves with a 7-on-7 format. Each team has seven players on the field at a time.
“It’s a really fast-paced game,” Boleyn said. “And it’s really inclusive. Everyone has a chance to get the ball and everyone has a chance to score. Play doesn’t stop – it just keeps going. There is a lot of running and a lot of scoring.”
Boleyn, a 22-year-old student at Northern Iowa, is a young head coach. But the Columbus High grad has an extensive background in rugby. He plays for the University of Northern Iowa team and has aspirations of competing after college.
He’s also enjoyed his role as a coach.
“Our players are really coachable and respectful,” Boleyn said. “They want to learn and get better. They’ve really bought into what we preach to them. It’s a good group of kids.”
The Waterloo team is eager to play against the state’s top teams after missing out last season.
As in most sports last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 prep rugby season.
“That was rough, missing out on playing last season,” Boleyn said. “It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to compete again now. We’re blessed we can play.”
The Waterloo Rugby Club is led by senior David Randall, a UNI commit.
“David grew up around the sport,” Boleyn said. “He brings a vast amount of knowledge to our team – he’s very rugby smart. He’s definitely one of our team leaders.”
Randall flashed a smile Friday when asked what it is like being a part of the Waterloo rugby program.
“This is so much fun, especially when you get to play alongside your friends,” he said. “I grew up watching rugby – my dad played it for 20 years. I fed off him and learned from him. I try to take what I know and share it with my teammates. We have some great athletes on this team who have done an amazing job.”
Waterloo also has key contributors in Carson and Caden Hartz.
“Carson is leading our team in scoring,” Boleyn said. “He’s really quick and strong. He’s made the most of it with the ball in his hands.
“Caden is really fast. He’s a good all-around player and he tackles well.”
Alex Purdy is another top player for the team.
“He’s one of our smaller guys, but he leads our team in tackles,” Boleyn said. “He has a nose for the ball.”
Waterloo’s Alex Feldmann, an all-state football player, is new to rugby. But that didn’t stop him from scoring four times against Cedar Falls on Friday.
“We have a great group of athletes and this team has excellent camaraderie,” Feldmann said. “Everybody works really hard and it definitely shows. My football experience helps a lot. When you get the ball, you can run and score just like in football. I’m having a lot of fun playing rugby. It’s a fast-paced game, and it’s been an awesome experience.”
The Waterloo Rugby Club also continues to be diligent in making sure it can compete with the pandemic still an issue.
“We take a lot of precautions with all of the protocols and everything,” Boleyn said. “Rugby is a sport with a lot of close contact so there are a lot of guidelines to follow. But we understand that.”
And they’ve stayed focused on their ultimate goal. Boleyn said Waterloo’s top challengers at state likely will be Bondurant-Farrar, Norwalk, Central Springs and Denver.
“There are some tough teams in our class. We just need to play together and play as a team,” said Boleyn, a co-head coach for the 2019 state title team. “We have good speed and we need to utilize that. We need to control the pace and control possession. And we need to eliminate mistakes. If we do all that and keep playing like we have, we have a good chance to win it again.”
Randall, a member of the 2019 state champions, is excited to have another significant opportunity in the postseason.
“We definitely need to play together and just play our type of rugby,” he said. “We need to play fast and use that to our advantage. We’re looking forward to making a run at another state title.”