UMD's Fighting Penguins are participating in the "2015 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship" in Denver this weekend. The matches will be covered by ESPN, giving this tenacious group a well-deserved turn in the spotlight.
If they win, it will be a national championship trifecta. UMD took home back-to-back DII championships in 2013 and 2014, which is how they automatically qualified for a spot on this year's roster.
This record is also what drew captain Trace Bolstad to UMD. "I knew that I wanted to play rugby in college, and I thought UMD could win nationals and decided to go here."
Trace has been playing rugby since he was a sixth grader in Hopkins, Minn. ("You get fast from running with fear," is how he remembers mixing it up with the big boys.) Trace's depth of experience equals many of his teammates', and this players profile has made all the difference Fighting Penguins' caliber.
A few years ago Trace's predecessor, Blake Martin, was sick of losing and started recruiting players like Trace who either had sport-specific experience or skills that could transfer from other arenas, like football and wrestling. The team grew from 14 to 40 and the wins, accolades, and crowds also began to accrue.
One thing that's stayed the same is the Fighting Penguins' club sport status. Recreational Sports Outdoor Program club sports don't receive the same amount of funding that varsity sports do. For example, the team won't be flying to the national championship this weekend; they'll get there via a 15-hour bus ride. While the Fighting Penguins' westward charge will be lead by coaches, other club sport teams coach themselves in addition to managing the finance and travel plans.
Trace is his team's flyhalf, a position he likens to a quarterback. He explains that a flyhalf creates plays, very similar to the way that club sports create opportunities for players. Trace says that self-directed athletes get experience as fundraisers, leaders, and planners that can be applied to their future careers.
For now, though, Trace and his team are focusing on this weekend and hoping that, come Monday, there will be yet another national championship trophy on the bus bound for home.
Trace Bolstad, top picture with the ball, and his Fighting Penguins team playing together last fall.
Story by Lori C. Melton, May 2015
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