The Eastside Lions varsity rugby squad (pictured) earned third place at Nationals in Kansas City this past May. Photo courtesy of Hugh Gladner

The Eastside Lions varsity rugby squad (pictured) earned third place at Nationals in Kansas City this past May. Photo courtesy of Hugh Gladner

Eastside Lions rugby club is thriving on the Eastside

Lions varsity squad earns third place at nationals.

The Eastside Lions varsity rugby team rose to the occasion at 2018 National High School rugby tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, this past May.

The Lions, who passed up the state tournament in order to compete at nationals, earned a third-place finish at the formidable tournament featuring a bevy of top-flight high school programs.

Lions varsity head coach Ray Keane said nationals was an invite-only tournament.

“We actually decided to forego the state finals. We played all the way up in the playoffs. The state finals was on the same weekend we were going to Kansas City. We decided to go to Kansas City. The standard (national tournament) is much better and the kids were going to learn more from it. That is what we did it. We finished in a very credible third place. We will be invited back next year for that season,” Keane said of his team’s stellar showing.

Keane said the Lions rugby club offers teams spanning a variety of age levels. The varsity team typically has 11th- and 12th-graders on the squad. The junior varsity team is predominantly ninth- and 10th-graders. The developmental squad is usually composed of seventh- and eighth-graders. For the players between first and sixth grade, the Lions try to keep players on the same team for a minimum of two years to create continuity.

“We have a different structure but we make sure they stay in the same group for pretty much two years,” Keane said of the younger age levels.

Across all levels there is one constant, a hyper-focus on developing skills across the board.

“We have a system here at Eastside which is professionally based. It is all about teaching basic skills. One of the things you will hear is that while the USA is progressing at the national level, one of the things they are not quite as good at as mature countries in the game is with skills like catch, pass, tackle and kick. Those things don’t necessarily come as naturally to an American kid that would come naturally for a European kid. For example, because they are kicking a soccer ball from the time they are born,” Keane said of European athletes.

Keane said he focuses on developing and fine tuning skills even at the varsity level during practice sessions.

Eastside Lions President Sean Fryer said there are players in the program from all over the Western Washington region.

“Most of them are from Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah. We also have kids from Seattle and even further south who have moved but wanted to stay with our program,” Fryer said.

Fryer was thrilled to see the varsity and junior varsity teams compete against teams from England over the summer. The Lions faced a team from Newcastle, England and Midland, England.

“Just to be able to have our kids test themselves against traditionally playing rugby nations is a great thing for them. What I think we find each time we play them is that our level of play goes up and our ability to compete and learn the little nuances of the game that they have makes a huge difference for our teams,” Fryer said.

Keane enjoys hosting the European teams for friendly contests against his squads.

“Teams from overseas tend to come this time of year. It is a great system. They come into town and stay in our houses so the boys get to know them. That is a great thing about this sport. It is a culture of respect and inclusion. We are all family,” Keane explained.

While the Lions currently practice on the Eastside at Ringdall Fields in Newcastle, they are currently searching for a longtime home for a rugby facility.

“A big part of rugby’s culture is having a place to call home. You don’t see much of it in the US (United States) with the exception of the colleges. That is what we’re trying to do,” Keane said.

More in Sports

Auburn Riverside defenders bring down Kennedy Catholic’s Junior Alexander during North Puget Sound League Mountain Division action in Oct. 2018 at Auburn Memorial Stadium. Photo by Rachel Ciampi/Auburn Reporter
Lawmakers push concussion awareness and best practices in sports

SB 5238 requires University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center to compile research data

Swinging strong at state

Mercer Island’s Rachel Ressmeyer tied for 11th on bars at the 1A/2A/3A… Continue reading

Mercer Island Islanders senior wrestler Donnie Howard, left, battles against Yelm’s Derrick Platt, right in the Mat Classic Class 3A 195-pound championship match. Platt earned a 3-2 victory against Howard on Feb. 16 at the Tacoma Dome. Photo courtesy of Billy Pruchno
Sensational senior earns second place at Mat Classic

Mercer Island 195-pound wrestler Donnie Howard finishes a memorable career on the mat.

Mercer Island Islanders senior grappler Eli Pruchno, who competed in the 138-pound weight division, earned three victories at the Mat Classic Class 3A state wrestling tournament on Feb. 15-16 at the Tacoma Dome. Photo courtesy of Billy Pruchno
Pruchno earns three victories at the Mat Classic

Mercer Island Islanders senior grappler Eli Pruchno, who competed in the 138-pound… Continue reading

Three Mercer Island Islanders gymnasts will compete at the Class 3A state meet from Feb. 21-23 at Sammamish High School in Bellevue. Islanders athletes Ava Motroni (beam, vault), Emery Sampson (vault) and Rachel Ressmeyer (bars, floor, vault) will test their skills against the best gymnastics athletes in Washington at the state meet. Photo courtesy of Debra Gibbs
Three Mercer Island athletes will compete at gymnastics state meet

Three Mercer Island Islanders gymnasts will compete at the Class 3A state… Continue reading

Richardson earns top honors at state swim meet

Mercer Island senior takes pair of titles again.

Soccer and hockey take center stage on vacation / Sports Scene

When you’re on vacation, you might as well pack as many vital… Continue reading

Mercer Island Islanders senior swimmer Killian Riley will compete in the 200 free, 100 free, 200 free relay and 400 free relay at the Class 3A state swim and dive championships on Feb. 15-16 in Federal Way. Shaun Scott, staff photo
Riley rises to the occasion in the pool

Mercer Island senior Killian Riley thrives in a quartet of events.

Give it your all in the playoffs and appreciate the moment / Sports Scene

Athletes and coaches have unveiled their best performances in the regular season,… Continue reading

Most Read