While this spring sports season has been marred by rain, cold weather and cancellations, one sport has endured through all of that.
Approaching the final weeks of its season, the Newton rugby team has already seen multiple levels of competition and will soon turn its focus to the postseason after hosting its lone home tournament of the season Friday.
“We don’t have as many numbers as we’ve had the past couple years, and it’s tough when you play against teams that can have a 17-man roster,” Newton co-coach Bill Reed said. “So we’ve really put it on these guys to be in a little better shape and expect to play almost an entire game. I think we’ve done pretty well besides a little blip last Friday night.”
The Cardinals currently hold a record of 3-5 overall, and the aforementioned blip was the team’s only 0-2 weekend coming against bigger schools last week. So far, the team’s victories include 56-7 over Boone, 56-14 over Des Moines Lincoln and 21-14 over Southeast Warren. The Class 1A Cardinals’ losses have all come against Class 2A competition.
Some key returners for the team are Ray Schroder, brothers Jake and Josh Smith and Mark Mackerman, who are all multi-year players. Austin VanBalen and Jake Huizenga are among the first-year players who have made an immediate impact, and Tristan Peters is a recent addition that Reed expects to step in and immediately help the team out.
The players have diverse backgrounds, as there are wrestlers, swimmers and football players all in the mix. That’s one of the draws of rugby, however, as there is no particular skill set to play the game that is beloved around the world. Whether it’s the perseverance mindset of a wrestler or swimmer or the physical mindset of a football player, members of the team have been able to contribute in multiple ways throughout the season.
“This is something that’s in my blood,” Reed said. “Between rugby and wrestling, I’d have a hard time choosing which one is my favorite. Once rugby gets in your blood, it’s really hard to get it out.”
“The kids feel the same way,” added co-coach Justin Liston. “Most of them that started kept on with it. We’ve had guys of all shapes and sizes from 120 to well over 200 pounds, and you need them both in rugby.”
Because Newton has performed well against its fellow 1A opponents, there is a reasonable expectation among the players and coaches that the team will be able to make some noise at the state championships, which will be held on May 17 at Williams Stadium in Des Moines. In the meantime, the Cards will be at home this Friday and will travel to Southeast Polk next week.
"We want to play hard the next two Fridays, but when it comes to the state level, we've seen most of the small schools we'll be competing against," Liston said. "Even with our low numbers, we believe we're talented enough to do something at state, and we expect it if everyone stays healthy and attacks."
Newton will square off against Waterloo East at 7 p.m. and Davenport Central at 9:20 Friday at H.A. Lynn Field. While the forecast doesn't look like the greatest for outdoor sports, the tournament will go on as planned unless truly severe conditions present themselves.
Other teams making the trip will be Cedar Falls, Southeast Polk, Van Meter, Davenport West and Iowa City West, so all teams in attendance will be able to get a look at what they could be facing when state rolls around.
"It'll be something different to see, and I think they're both new teams this year," Reed said of Waterloo East and Davenport Central. "I heard they have some pretty good athletes, so we'll have to be ready for that."