The Highlanders Rugby Club, winner of five of this century’s first 10 North Carolina high school championships, is off to a fast start for its 2015 season.
Heading into a second regular-season match this weekend, the Highlanders had yet to give up a point in either of two preseason win or in a 64-0 rout of North Raleigh in their season opener.
“Maybe they weren’t the best team, but I think it’s clear we’ve got a lot going for us,” said Highlander co-captain Tyler Hill, a former football player for East Chapel Hill. “Things are looking good so far.”
The Highlanders, as Hill noted, have constructed a good team that could rank among the best of the club’s highly successful history. About 20 new players have joined the club’s high school team for this year, injecting new blood into what already has been a growing sport in North Carolina, HRC founder and coach Robert Joseph noted.
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“We have seen a huge growth over the summer and fall,” said Joseph, who also recently became the president of N.C. Youth Rugby.
While incorporating newcomers into most teams can require a lot of time before wins begin to materialize, inviting the uninitiated into rugby is essential to the sport. Joseph and his fellow coaches are adept at teaching the basics of the game to new players and increasing the skills of veterans.
“He’s very good at explaining everything about the game to everyone,” said first-year Highlander Connor Albrecht.
Albrecht is a perfect example of the blend of young athletes drawn to Highlanders rugby. In addition to being a News & Observer 2014 scholar-athlete of the week, Albrecht earned all-conference honors in both varsity soccer and football at Chapel Hill High School.
“I have to say rugby is a perfect fit for me,” he said. “It incorporates the endurance, athleticism and field awareness of soccer with the contact of football.”
Not all of the new Highlanders are new to rugby. Zane Holdstock, 17, and his younger brother Justin, 15, have been playing since they were elementary school student in California. While North Carolina lacks the number of clubs found in California, the Holdstock’s father, originally from South Africa, was delighted to learn of the Chapel Hill-based club.
“There is so much about rugby I really like,” Zane said. “I’ve played soccer, but I wanted more physicality. There’s a mindset required in rugby you don’t find anywhere else.
“You have to be aware of where everyone is on the field, all the time, and you have to be prepared to switch from offense to defense quickly. You can go from running with the ball to tackling in no time at all.”
After a home game this weekend against Triad RFC, the Highlanders play the season’s first road match Feb. 28 at Southern Pines.
The Chapel Hill Warriors, the area’s rugby club for adult players, also are off to a fast start this season. They routed Triad RFC 43-12 in their season-opener, with tries scored by Drew Zabor, Corbin Moseley, Michael Markofski, Wade Berreth and Jaimee Reid. Andrew Jones and Wade Berreth provided penalty kicks and conversions.