Sierra makes instant impact

Local talent fuels Sierra College Rugby Club’s success in first year of competition
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Michael Taylor had a feeling there was a rugby giant just waiting to be roused at Sierra College. Two years after laying the foundation, the Sierra College Rugby Club is a full-fledged, competitive team and is quickly establishing itself as a major threat in the Division II college ranks. Stocked with talent from around Sacramento and the foothills, Sierra is 2-2 in its first season of play. Taylor, who played collegiately and professionally in London and later in Canada, coaches the team. “We have one of the strongest high school conferences in the nation,” said Taylor, who played for the London Wasps after graduating from the University of London. “We draw players from all the junior colleges in Sacramento, so that allows us some depth. Being a junior college makes it a little more difficult to compete with the four-year schools, but we’ve got some very good talent.” Taylor, a retired physician, started teaching a two-unit rugby class at Sierra in 2007 and the club was formed in January of 2008. After playing an exhibition schedule last year, Sierra is a part of the Northern California Division II conference this season, facing clubs from California Maritime, Humboldt State, San Jose State, Fresno State, Santa Clara and more. Shayne Morgan, the president of the club, is one of the team’s top players. The Del Oro High graduate brings seven years of experience to the field. “I had a friend that played with the Golden Eagles (Rugby Club), so I went out and tried it,” Morgan said. “After the first practice, I was hooked.” So are thousands of others in the Sacramento area. The Golden Eagles Club has quickly grown into a strong team, though Jesuit remains the standard for rugby in the high school ranks. The Marauders have won four national titles at the high school level. Sierra has a handful of Jesuit products and many players from the foothills. Taylor said most of his players have some rugby experience, but some are getting by on sheer athleticism while learning the game. “We have a couple of players who are very talented,” said Taylor, who previously coached Del Campo’s club team. “ We have lots of other athletes – we’re a very athletic program. But at this level there’s a difference between athleticism and skill.” Morgan said at the high school level, the fastest and strongest players usually dominate, but the team aspect of the game is much more important at the college level. “The level of play’s a lot different,” he said. “In high school if you have a good runner, he can run through everyone. In college there’s a lot more physicality.” Along with Morgan, Taylor said Placer grad Jordan Raty is one of the club’s top players. He’s hoping to continue his career at St. Mary’s — one of the top Division I programs in the West. Sierra’s top talent may be Davis graduate Kevin Holland-McCann, who Taylor said has a chance to play with the under-20 USA Eagles – the national side. Speedy Del Oro graduate Steve Peart is also a standout. Placer’s Jon Slane and Colfax’s Larry Wooten are former football players who have turned into outstanding ruggers. Rugby is not an NCAA sport, but the game will be included in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Rugby combines the physicality of football with the aerobic requirements of soccer and Taylor said it’s the ultimate team game. “It’s a game for all shapes and sizes – it really gives everyone the ability to participate,” he said. “It’s constant motion. It’s a fast game and it’s physical. People like that there are no pads or helmets and once you get used to the intricacies of the game, there’s a lot of skill involved.” Sierra has five matches remaining in the season, including a home date against UC Santa Cruz on Saturday at 1 p.m. The goal is a top-four finish in the nine-team division, which would mean a trip to the playoffs and a shot at the national championships. Sierra is currently third in the standings. “A lot of it has to do with our coaching, I have to give it to coach Taylor,” Morgan said. “I think we have a shot to go to nationals. We lost a lot of guys from last year, but I still think we should be able to go pretty far.”