Fox Chapel Area grads lead IUP rugby to national recognition
Rugby is a demanding, physical sport with a lot of collisions.
There's a lot of intense action and rough-housing involved in the scrums.
Those are a few of the reasons that 2010 Fox Chapel Area High School graduates Ana Olander and twins Brittany and Caitlin Lyons love playing the sport.
The trio played on the Fox Chapel High School women's rugby team. All three were members of the FC volleyball team and were looking for a sport to play in the spring.
Olander, who has been playing for eight years now, was hooked quickly.
“I tried it and it stuck. It's a lot of fun,” Olander said.
Brittany Lyons was also enthusiastic about rugby from the start.
“The physicality didn't bother me,” she said. “I liked it. I have two older brothers and we were always playing backyard football so there wasn't much of a difference.”
Caitlin Lyons got her start thanks to a referral.
“I was looking for a spring sport and my cousin, who had played on the rugby team, told me I should give it a try,” she said. “I loved it. I loved the physicality. After playing volleyball indoors, it was great to play a sport outdoors. I found it to be a great stress reliever, too.”
All three girls went to IUP and continued playing rugby, where it is a club sport. And they had great success.
They played in the USA Rugby D-II National Championships a few weeks ago.
After winning their two matches held at Penn State University, the team got an invitation to play in the national championships in California.
“We had a tough decision to make,” Caitlin Lyons said. “We weren't sure we'd go. First off, being a club sport, we'd have to take care of expenses. But the parents and boosters helped with that. Secondly, we had a lot of seniors on the team and they would have to miss the graduation ceremonies. We took a team vote and decided that playing in the tournament was a once-in-a- lifetime chance.”
The team was undefeated during the regular season, a fact made all the more impressive by their lack of a coach.
“We are a self-governing team and when we got to California, we saw that the other teams had coaches, assistant coaches and trainers. And here's little old IUP that doesn't even have a coach,” Caitlin Lyons said.
The lack of a coach didn't deter the team as it finished third in the nation.
IUP lost to California State-Northridge for the only blemish on its record.
“We did well,” Brittany Lyons said. “We didn't plan on getting there. It was a great experience seeing teams from all over.”
Brittany and Caitlin Lyons graduated recently with degrees in nursing while Olander, who is majoring in studio art, has one more year to play.
“I think my rugby days are over,” Brittany Lyons said. “It's bittersweet. I'd love to keep playing but now that I have a job, I don't want to risk getting hurt.”
Olander recently received an invitation from the USA Rugby Association to attend its camp.
“I was supposed to get an operation for a torn ligament but it's coming around so I'll be attending the camp,” she said.
Olander feels that the injury factor in rugby is overblown.
“You learn to play the right way and you learn to play safe. That keeps the injuries down,” she said.
Caitlin Lyons suffered some injuries in high school but that never deterred her.
“I had a concussion and a dislocated jaw but you take risks in whatever sport you play,” she said. “I love playing rugby and I've been injury-free for quite a while.”
Marty Stewart is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-782-2123 or email@example.com.