Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ohio College All-Stars Provides Pathway to Nationals for Ohio Players

Over the weekend, nearly 40 of Ohio’s collegiate men’s rugby players convened in New Albany, Ohio for a shot to represent the state on its latest representative side, the Ohio Colleges All-Star side. The OCA side will play a set of matches against Michigan’s squad in May 13 and later in the Fall. Though this first team’s focus is on the upcoming matches, the overarching goal of this team is to enable more players to push into the highest levels of the rugby world.

“The purpose of the team is to create a pathway for players looking to represent their country,” said Taylor Howden, flyhalf for Columbus Rugby and primary scout during the trials. “The purpose of the trial was to select players for the Ohio Colleges rep team.”

In the long run, the OCA team will provide an accessible pathway to the national rugby scene and kickstart the renaissance of the regional representative sides of old. Ohio has developed top-tier talent and solid programs, only to have players’ progress halted after a certain point. By attending future trials and playing on the resulting teams, talented players from the Buckeye State will have an easier team getting on the radar of people at the national level.

“We need this team because we have great home grown talent. Ohio breeds athletes and once these athletes get the right coaching they can have big futures in rugby.” Howden said. “There are players here with a lot of skill. Lots of them. What they lack is experience in higher-level games and how to deal with pressure in those games. Once these players get that experience and game time, they will become better players.”

While there is Tiger Academy in Columbus, a high-performance environment that has taken in notable names and launched players into the national spotlight, the OCA will strive to do that on a larger scale. At the trials, alone, there were 11 universities represented, from Notre Dame College and Ohio State University to smaller universities like Mount Union and Baldwin-Wallace. Some of these player might not have been granted an audience at Tiger, but with the trials everyone is put on even footing – everyone is given a fighting chance.

Once given that footing and the opportunity to tryout, a squad was selected to train together and prepare for the matches against Michigan.

“There were a few standout players at the trial who put their hands up,” Howden said. “The larger schools tend to be more well-represented, but I was impressed by some of the players from the smaller, lesser-known schools.”

Of the colleges and universities represented, players from Ohio State University took a whopping eight spots on the final roster, while Notre Dame College sent five representatives. Wheeling Jesuit has two representatives on the roster, and Brent Panik will fly the flag of Baldwin-Wallace .

Straight ahead for the OCA side is a set of matches against Michigan. Looking past the second match, Howden plans to have more matches for future iterations of this side to allow the player to build as much cohesion as possible, experience and exposure as possible. Down the line, there will be trials held twice a year, with future squads playing four to five matches with one another.

From the start, accessibility has been built into the foundation of the OCA squad. Ahead of the weekend’s trials, Howden scoured the state to spread the word about the trials. He went through coaches’ emails as well as the list serve from Rugby Ohio to get the word out, as well as relying on word of mouth within the rugby community. Going forward, players will be able to take the initiative by sending in videos or contacting Howden directly.

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