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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Colorado - Lindenwood: an elite rugby pathway

LU Lady Lions Elite 7s Side
Lady Lions Roar
Lindenwood University, located in St. Charles Missouri, has become an important cog in the American rugby machine. The institution of higher learning boasts men’s and women’s programs that have risen to the upper decks on the national landscape since the school began offering extensive rugby scholarship opportunities in 2011.  
LU Lady Lions Billy Nicholas has led his sides to prominence in both 7s and 15s codes in the short (1.5 yrs) time he’s been a member of the Lion’s Pride. “In the women’s program, we currently (field) two teams: we have a 1st XV and a 2nd XV for 15-a-side,” Nicholas reports and, “we also have two, Elite 7s teams in the spring.” Both codes compete in their respective USA Rugby Division 1 conferences. Lady Lions XVs finished 1st in their conference in the last competition cycle, while the 7s side was Nebraska 7s Cup champions and took 2nd at the National Collegiate Rugby 7s Championships.
The 2015 Lady Lions pride will feature a quartet of Rugby Colorado products on its roster. The LU programs sell themselves, though: “We are always looking to recruit and have seen the immense growth of the sport in the State of Colorado and (we) would like to continue to see top players from the state come and join us at Lindenwood. Interested players or families can email me at Bnicholas@lindenwood.edu.”
Four RC women joining Nicholas’ group this fall, all of whom receive rugby scholarships: sophomore Dana Olsen (Fort Collins), a USA Rugby Youth Olympian who positions at center and halfback; Summit County’s Taylor Bohlender will supply power in the Lady Lions engine room; and a pair of freshman Lindenwood enrollees from Summit County, both USA Rugby All-Americans, Morgan Courtney (center) and Paulina Las (hooker), will continue their student-athlete journeys this fall.
Morgan Courtney currently trains at the American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC) in North Little Rock, Arkansas. The talented five-eighths is enthusiastic regards her position: “I love the space you can have (in both 7s and 15s).” She anticipates eagerly the college regimen, though she acknowledges, “it's very different playing a sport and having academics, thus (it) is where time management is key... Learning to space out practice and homework. If I want to play I have to get the grades, and that's my motivation to do good in school. I know becoming a student-athlete is going to be difficult, but I am up for the challenge.” Well spoken by the student-athlete who sported a 3.6 GPA at secondary school!

Off the pitch, Courtney expresses a wonderful joie de vivre: “I love to do a lot of things. I love hiking and biking. I love to raft with my family and spend time with friends. But I love training for the sport I love, too, which is why I am spending my summer here at ARPTC and playing in the fall at Lindenwood... I am super excited to be on Billy's team.”

Sophomore Dana Olsen (left, breaking away at Nanjing, China) has found considerable form at the #15 slot where she has played the majority of her rugby.
Olsen breaks from tackle at Nanjing, China

She is carrying a 3.5 GPA after her first year at university, finding keys to the student-athlete lockbox: “I make sure to get good sleep, so I can perform both to the best of my abilities and I try to do homework between classes, practice and work-study.
We (the LU Lady Lions team) are quite busy, but usually after practice or between, we find time to all just relax and hang out. Everybody is busy, but being able to enjoy the people and opportunities around you is what makes everything worth it.“
The rugby programs at Lindenwood are a complete student-athlete package. Lady Lions head coach Billy Nicholas: “ A typical week looks like the following: four practice sessions,  three strength-and-conditioning sessions with our certified S-and-C coaches, plus match play or travel depending (on the upcoming fixture whether it’s an) away or home match. We have a full time coaching staff and full time athletic trainer. The players truly get access to an elite, high-performance environment.”
Nicholas continues: “Any players struggling in their classes have access to free tutoring for each class, plus study halls as we really believe in student-athletes in every sense of the word. The program here is fully funded by the university; we have immense support from our administration. Our kit, travels and tournaments are all funded by the university. We want our players to come in here and focus on school and rugby. They (the players) do have time for recreation, but usually end up hanging out as a team anyways as we are more like a family here than anything else. When we do have free days, we like to get involved in the community. This past spring we did a 5k run to support ‘Girls on the Run’ to empower women, and (we) also work closely with local organizations to build our community and give back to St. Charles.”

noto bene:  link for players interested in being a Lindenwood Rugby Recruit 

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