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Burrell rugby team bolts to sizzling 3-game start

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell Buckhead's Nicholas Kastelic runs the ball past South Pitt Rugby defenders during their match at Burrell on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Burrell won the match 52-0.

At the beginning of each season, regardless of the sport, every coach is challenged with the task of figuring out where each piece of the team fits in hope of building a championship puzzle.

That task is even more difficult for Burrell Buckhead rugby coach Ron Zanella.

Rugby, often overlooked among other mainstream sports, doesn't have the luxury of youth development programs. When teenagers step onto the field, they are typically unfamiliar with the rules and fundamentals of the game.

“At least half of the starters end up being first-year players. It's tough, especially when you have to reevaluate everybody and find positions,” Zanella said. “Rugby is so unique. There is a position for everybody. Any kind of skill set can be used on a rugby field. We just try to find the best position for each guy according to their skill set.”

Zanella has done an admirable job making the pieces fit.

Burrell has evolved into a perennial contender, reaching at least the state semifinals for the past eight seasons.

This year's squad has its sights set a bit higher than the semis, where Burrell fell last season to eventual state champ Unionville.

The Buckhead club proved its clout Sunday with a 26-0 demolition of Unionville, which entered the game ranked No. 12 in the country. Through three games, Burrell has outscored the competition 139-7.

“It amazes me how much teamwork there is this year. Everybody, one through 15, gets involved every play, and that's what has made us successful this year,” Zanella said. “More than anything else, it's the trust and teamwork.”

The seamless cooperation on the field can be partially attributed to captains Tyler Horwatt and Nick Kastelic.

“They communicate so well, positioning everybody, calling plays, getting everything set up and ready to go,” Zanella said. “They can see the field, know what's going to happen and make very good judgment calls.”

Horwatt, who was introduced to rugby last year, was quite satisfied with the recent triumph over the defending state champions.

“That definitely felt good,” the Burrell senior said. “We got physical with them. They kind of set the tone last year against us. We wanted payback, and we just went out there and played.”

Jason Orfao is a freelance writer.

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