November 16, 2011

Tackling a new sport

By Robin Wark

A multi-sport athlete in high school, Watford City’s Olivia Sundeen wanted to be part of something when she went to Augustana College.
A member of Watford City’s 2009 State Class B Cross Country championship team, the daughter of Ross and Tricia Sundeen, Sundeen considered trying track and field. While sitting with some new people in the Sioux Falls school’s cafeteria she saw they had something that piqued her interest even more – a flyer about the school’s women’s rugby club team.
“I thought the idea sounded awesome because I have always been drawn to football and love to talk like I’m tough like ‘one of the boys,” Sundeen wrote in an email history. “The rest is history.”
Sundeen, a sophomore, picked up the physical game quickly. Last March she was picked to try out for the USA U20 National Rugby Team in Florida with 60 other athletes. Also in the spring, she made the Great Plains U23 Select Side Rugby Team and competed at the U23 LAU Select Side Tournament in Kansas. After that event, Sundeen was named the Team MVP of the weekend by her coach.
This fall she helped Augustana to a third place finish in the playoffs. Sundeen has enjoyed many aspects of playing rugby, especially her teammates. She humbly praises them for her success.
“Getting to play with such a great group of girls is one of the best parts,” she wrote. “On top of that, I have been lucky enough to play with experienced players who have taught me the game. Without these influences I would not be the same player I am today.”
Sundeen is certainly an important contributor to the Augustana squad. She plays the outside center position and is a scoring threat due to her speed and strength. Similar in some ways to football, the goal of rugby is to get the ball across the goal line to score what is called a try.
“We know that whenever she has the ball, she is going to run hard and it is going to take a very strong opponent to tackle her and take her down,” wrote Tina Nagel, president of the Augustana Women’s Rugby Club, in an email interview. “She is also a great tackler. Whenever the opposition breaks free, we can count on her to catch up to that girl and put a good tackle on them.”
Most of Sundeen’s friends were shocked when she told them she plays the rough and tumble game. She said part of that is because she is quite small in stature for a rugby player. After watching her play or learning about her accomplishments, they have all been very supportive.
Sundeen also has the backing of her parents, who have traveled more than 10 hours to watch her play in cold weather. Once she started playing rugby, her father quickly became an enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan. Sundeen jokes, “I think if he could play himself he would.” While perhaps just a bit concerned at the start, her mother strongly supports her daughter.
In part of an email interview, Sundeen wrote, “I guess I’m just trying to say that I am blessed to have as much love and support from them in not only rugby but everything I do.”
There was a lot to cheer about in rugby this season. After an 0-2 start, Augustana, with quite a few players new to the sport, won its final three games in the Great Plains Rugby Union. The five-team league includes squads in South Dakota and Nebraska. The top two teams from the league, including Augustana, advanced to the playoffs against the best squads from Minnesota. After dropping its first game in Wayne, Neb., Augustana bounced back to romp past Bemidji State University 32-5 for third place. The winner of the playoffs advanced to the national tournament in New Jersey.
As well as practices and games, fundraising is also a major commitment for Sundeen and other Augustana players. As a club, rugby does not receive funding from the athletic department. It is supported by the student association, but additional necessary funds are raised through such activities as T-shirt sales and bike washes at the supportive J&L Harley Davidson dealership in Sioux Falls.
Sundeen juggles her rugby activities with her course load. The former McKenzie County Farmer intern is majoring in communications and journalism. “I love to write and interact with people so I felt this field incorporated both traits,” Sundeen wrote.
While the competitive rugby season is held in the fall, there is also a spring season, which consists mostly of tournaments. After a strong fall campaign, Sundeen, Nagel and their teammates are already looking forward to getting back on the pitch.
“We are all extremely sad the season is over; we are a very close-knit team,” Nagel wrote. “Now we are just waiting for the spring season to begin at the end of March!”