By David Shelton, 02/16/22
High school rugby in the Lowcountry? Who knew?
Few people outside of the athletes who play and their families may be aware that high school rugby is catching on locally or that it offers college opportunities.
Though a long way from becoming a sanctioned sport by the S.C. High School League, rugby is taking hold in Mount Pleasant, with a pair of high school seniors taking their skills to the college level.
Wando’s Cecilia Ollis will play next year at Army (West Point) and Oceanside Collegiate’s Roan Shawver has signed to play at Queens University in Charlotte. Both athletes just recently began participating in the sport, and both appear to be naturals.
“I played soccer for as long as I can remember, up until COVID-19 hit,” said Ollis, who received congressional appointments to West Point from South Carolina senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, along with congresswoman Nancy Mace.
“In soccer I was always one of the bigger players and I was physical so I would get called for fouls a lot. I just decided a year ago to try rugby and I fell in love with the game. It’s a game where being physical is encouraged so I sort of just fit in.”
The lack of competition locally and within the state means club teams play many of their matches against teams from North Carolina, where the sport has a head start in terms of its growth.
Ollis also plays with an established league team, the USA South Panthers. It was with that team in a tournament in Orlando, Fla., that Ollis caught the eye of Army coaches. Ollis said she has wanted to attend West Point for years.
“It’s a dream come true, to be able to attend my dream school and to get the chance to play Division I rugby,” said Ollis, who also is a member of the marching band at Wando. “I honestly had no idea that I would be able to play in college. I look forward to improving my game at the next level.”
For Shawver, his sport of choice throughout high school was football. He started as a sophomore safety at Summerville before playing the last two seasons at Oceanside Collegiate. He was a two-time Post and Courier All-Lowcountry football team selection, but didn’t get the scholarship offers he had hoped for.
Shawver joined Oceanside Collegiate’s rugby team on a whim and discovered that his physicality and toughness served him well in the sport. He attended a camp in Atlanta and was offered the opportunity to play by Queens College.
“It’s kind of crazy because football was always my thing, my passion, and I just decided to try rugby,” said Shawver, who is originally from Idaho. “I’ve been playing football for a long time and I was disappointed that the college offers weren’t coming after putting so much work into it. But rugby gave me a chance and now it’s my sport.”
Shawver admits that he still has a lot to learn about the sport.
“I don’t yet have the skills as guys that have been playing for a long time but I will become a student of the game,” he said. “It’s all very new but it is exciting. I feel like I have a great future in rugby.”
By Frankie Mansfield email@example.com, 06/10/19, 2:15PM EDT
WANDO SAW EIGHT MORE ATHLETES SIGN THIS SPRING FROM A GRADUATING CLASS THAT’S PRODUCED 34 THIS YEAR.
The East Cooper coverage area produced 21 more college signees this spring.
Academic Magnet, Ashley Hall, Bishop England, First Baptist, Oceanside, Palmetto Christian, Porter-Gaud and Wando have combined to send 89 student-athletes to college to play 15 different sports from the 2019 graduating class.
Wando added eight this spring to lift its total to 34 this year. Oceanside celebrated six spring signees as part of a group of 26 total. Porter-Gaud saw three athletes sign and now has eight this year, as does Bishop England. Palmetto Christian celebrated two this spring and First Baptist had its first basketball signee of the year.
“They are all part of an outstanding senior class,” Wando athletics director Bob Hayes said at the Warriors’ signing ceremony. “This is a proud day for us. I know it’s a proud day for these young men and I know it’s a really proud day for the friends and family here today. It should be. This is a great example of team work.”
Three members of Wando’s state champion rugby club team signed with Arkansas State. Four-year letterman Connor Hogan, three-year letterman Baylor Williams and two-year letterman Luke McCaleb all signed to the Red Wolves, regarded as one of the top rugby programs in the nation.
The Wando rugby team was undefeated in-state this season on way to its fourth state title in the past six years. The Warriors placed sixth at Boys High School Rugby Nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah, an invitation-only event that includes just 24 teams nationwide.
“For senior football players who don’t know what to do afterwards, there are some really good opportunities in rugby,” McCaleb said. All three of the rugby signees started for the Warriors football team. “It’s really good to be going with (Hogan and Williams) because there’s a lot to rugby. You have to be close and know how everyone plays so that’s going to be a big help for us having all already played together.
“Rugby gave me an opportunity to play in college, and I took it.”
NEW HIGH SCHOOL CLUB TEAMS ARE BLURRING OLD GENDER BARRIERS
There’s something unusual about an otherwise ordinary spring afternoon in Mount Pleasant.
Inside a middle school gym, there are 20 or so high schoolers bouncing around on basketball floor that’s split by a couple nets into a pair of volleyball courts. There’s no spandex, most of the shorts out here are long and baggy. And these volleyball players sport mustaches above their lips, some with full beards wrapped around their chins.
A couple miles up the road, there are about 20 more high school rugby players slamming into tackling dummies in the outfield of a middle school baseball field. Rugby seems appropriate for this time of year but the screaming and the grunting is emitting from players with long ponytails. Their teammates cheer from the side with mouth guards tucked into the strap of taut tank tops. One of the players slips off the pad and with an empathic thud crashes to the grass and lays for a moment.
“Are you hurt?” a teammate asks rhetorically.
“No,” the player fires back, seeming almost insulted.
“Get up then and go again.” And so she does.
Gender barriers have for so long defined high school volleyball and, more recently, rugby in South Carolina. Volleyball traditionally belongs to the girls in the fall while rugby is reserved for the boys in the spring. A couple club teams at Wando High School have begun to blur those perceived barriers though.
“If you build it, they will come,” Kim Perritt said in a warm New Zealand accent. “Well, we’ve built it and here they are. Word has spread quickly, I guess, and things are changing.”
Perritt is the head coach of the Wando girls rugby team, one of the first girls high school rugby teams in the state. She needed 15 players to fill out a lineup but 23 would’ve been ideal for a full roster. The club team now includes 56 members in all.
“They’ve got the bug,” Perritt declared proudly. “Girls who have never played the sport before, some who have never played a sport, we’re empowering these young women, teaching them a lot of life lessons that will last on and off the field.”
THE WANDO RUBY CLUB HAS GROWN FROM 13 PLAYERS, TO OVER 100 IN JUST EIGHT YEARS.
The Wando Ruby Club has grown from 13 players, to over 100 in just eight years.
Tod Shepherd said, "I am surprised. When I first started, our first couple of years were kind of lean, and we didn't think we would get this big. We didn't really care about winning. It was just about having fun.
And they're still having fun, but now they're winning. The club has three state championships, they're working on number four, and for the first time in its existence they're going to nationals. They are just one of 12 teams.
Arthur Doyle said, "it's awesome that I get to be a senior and go to do that for the first time ever. I actually didn't think I'd be doing that."
Caleb Calandra said, "pretty awesome because the guys before us basically got us here by winning state championships and building up the team. We're just following through with what they started."
So this program is very successful, but how did that happen?
Shepherd said, "as we got better, more and more kids came out. They heard we were good, and I guess it's kind of like a magnet, they just started coming."
Doyle said, "I found out from friends, and then I started telling all of my other friends how great it was and convinced them to come out and play, and they love it."
And here's something else, all of the coaches are volunteers, and all of the money is fundraised.
Calandra said, "we get no funding from the school because it's a club, so we have to do a lot of fundraising."
Nationals takes place in May, and I will have more from the Wando Rugby Club leading up to the tournament.
The final fundraiser of the season is on April 8th. The team is going to be selling pies at the Palmetto County Park.
By Frankie Mansfield firstname.lastname@example.org Frankie Mansfield , 03/19/18, 8:45AM EDT
WANDO FIRST TOOK OVER THE STATE FOUR YEARS AGO.
Wando first took over the state four years ago. Then last year it conquered regionals. Now this spring, a rugby program less than a decade young, has its sights set on something much larger.
“Utah, New York, California, Indiana, it’s crazy how it’s really the entire country,” Wando coach Tod Shepherd says with a slight Canadian accent as he shuffles through the national rankings. “Nationals has been a goal of ours for a few years now. And I think this year is the most prepared that we’ve been.”
The two-time defending state champion Wando rugby team has secured one of 12 bids into this season’s high school rugby national championship tournament, scheduled for May in Kansas City, Mo.
Teams must submit applications highlighting not only the current season but also recent years to be considered for the invitation-only national bracket. Wando’s resume includes three state titles in the past four years and an even more coveted super league regional championship last season.
Then last week, the Warriors bolstered their credentials with one of the program's best wins ever in a convincing 32-15 win over 2017 national runner-up Charlotte Catholic under the spotlight of the 15th annual Carolina Ruggerfest showcase in Matthews, N.C. The win launched the Warriors to seventh in the national rankings and into consideration as a legitimate championship contender.
“Beating Charlotte Catholic was a signature moment for our program,” Shepherd said. “It validated how good of a program we are and how good we can be.”
By Frankie Mansfield email@example.com Frankie Mansfield , 06/08/17, 9:15AM EDT
Wando rugby players piled into an inflatable children’s pool five or six at a time as temperatures cracked 90 degrees during Memorial Day in Charlotte.
It was more rehabilitation than vacation, though.
Most teams have about five days to rest between matches. Wando had just 80 minutes between two of the most important games in its program’s history.
“There wasn’t any time to waste,” Wando head coach Tod Shepherd said. “In that situation you’re trying to get the inflammation out, get your core temperature down, rejuvenate your muscles as quick as you can.”
Wando recovered brilliantly with a decisive 35-7 win over Union County to capture the inaugural Mid-South Independent Rugby League championship.
The MSIRL, known as a super league, aligned the nine best high school programs from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in an invitation-only tournament to crown the region’s best high school team.
“We wanted to create the super league with better teams to have more competition at a higher level,” Shepherd said. “The completion was way, way more difficult than what we see during the season.”
Each team played the other eight opponents once, with the four best records advancing into a single-elimination playoff. The South Carolina state champion Warriors entered the playoffs as the fourth and final seed.
“We thought we could do some damage,” Shepherd said. “Anything beyond making the playoffs, in my mind, was a bonus. But once you get in anything can happen.”
By Frankie Mansfield firstname.lastname@example.org, Apr 3, 2017
The answer began to roll off the tongue of Tod Shepherd before the question was finished being asked.
“Are ya’ll trying to build a dynasty?” someone half-jokingly called out to the Wando rugby coach as he exited the pitch at Spring Hill High School.
“Too late,” Shepherd shot back with a smile. “We already have one.”
Wando defeated South Greenville 14-12 Saturday in Chapin to win its second straight state championship and third title in four years.
One’s never enough though. Just hours after Wando raised the state trophy, the Warriors’ B Team defeated Spring Hill 25-17 in the Division II state championship match. It’s the first time in Wando’s budding program history the Warriors have swept state championships on both the A and B sides.
“It’s incredible when you think about it,” Shepherd said. “It really proves our depth is unparalleled in the state. No one else can win a state championship then put their reserves out there and win the DII championship.”
Wando entered the state final ranked No. 15 in the nation. Across the pitch stood South Greenville, a proud upstate rival the Warriors defeated in last year’s championship game but lost to in the title match the year prior.
Nerves struck Wando early. Passing was poor, the line wasn’t fluid, and by the 20th minute, South Greenville earned its first try off a short plunge from Chris Barnes that opened a 5-0 advantage.
“I was a little nervous,” Shepherd said. “The state championship was on the line.”
South Greenville’s score seemingly ignited the Warriors though as senior scrumhalf Charlie van Vliet evened the score with Wandos’ first try 30 seconds later. van Vliet then added the two-point kick conversion and Wando never trailed again.
“It was a powerful, dominant 30 seconds of play,” Shepherd said. “I thought, ‘OK boys, we’re awake now.’”
Joe Griffin tacked on Wando’s second try five minutes into the second half. Griffin took a short pass from van Vliet off a ruck and powered across the line for the score. van Vliet added a decisive conversion to extended a 14-5 two-score Warriors lead.
“Charlie has been phenomenal for our program,” Shepherd said. “He’s a warrior. You know he’s going to make the conversions and penalty kicks, and that’s our ace in the hole. Kicking was the difference.”
South Greenville missed two penalty kicks and a conversion in the match. Wando received a yellow card penalty with six minutes to play that set South Greenville up in Warriors territory. South Greenville broke through in the final minutes of injury time on a try from Matt Shoemaker, but by then the win was already in hand for Wando.
“Heart and passion made the difference,” Shepherd said. “You could see it in their faces. They put their bodies on the line, literally. A 250-pound guy running at you, it takes a lot of nerve to make that tackle.”
Wando’s B Team had little trouble putting away Spring Hill’s A Team in the Division II title game.
Joe Frank scored the Warriors’ first try just four minutes into the match. Josh Novak added a second at the 20-minute mark and Michael Goodwin opened a 15-0 advantage just before halftime.
Ron Wilder scored at 40 minutes to put Wando ahead 25-0. Spring Hill managed two late tries in the waning minutes as most of the Warriors'’ starters had left the game.
“I can’t say enough about our DII team. So many freshmen and sophomores against their seniors. These are our reserves out there beating the best other schools have,” Shepherd said. “The program is in a really good place right now. We have the infrastructure, parent support. We have a field. We’re ranked. Winning has been important in all of that. Kids want to play for a winner. And we’re expecting to keep winning in the future.”