The decade-old girls rugby program at Amherst Steele High is finding continued success on the field and opening doors to new opportunities for its athletes.
Senior Sierra Baker has accepted a four-year scholarship offer from Youngstown State University. She helped the varsity squad finish 2-0 on Oct. 7 in the season’s first tournament.
“I played rugby when I was younger in a flag league,” she said. “I ended up stopping for a while but a friend on the team here said I should try it again. I just stuck around. I wasn’t even thinking about a college scholarship or making it this far.”
Bri Slavik, a 2010 Steele grad, now works with the team as an assistant coach. In 2008, she was a member of the program’s first team, which shot up the state ladder to place fifth.
“It’s amazing to go from not knowing a sport at all to jumping in, learning about it, recruiting, and randomly finding a coach at a football game,” she said. “Being able to keep the program established and then coming back and giving all that I’ve learned to new players has been awesome.
Slavik described how a new rugby player was talking about the fledgling team in 2008 with fans during a Comets football game. She caught the ear of Jim Yanosko, who’s served as head coach ever since.
“She asked him to come hang out with us and he hasn’t left yet,” joked Slavik.
Yanosko led Steele to an 8-5 record last year, losing just one regular season game. The team came up just short in the state championship against Medina.
Although rugby is not yet an official OHSAA sport, the coach said talks have continued as the number of squads in Ohio continues to grow.
“There was this group of kids without a coach and a group of boys from Elyria Catholic were trying to teach them the game,” Yanosko said. “I told them to let me see what they had, and what I saw was 15 kids that did everything together and wanted to learn a sport. I told them if they work the schedule I want, I’ll commit. It was the best thing that could’ve happened. This team we have right now reminds me of that 2008 team.”
Steele rugby is active in both the fall and spring — this season started in October — and until OHSAA certification comes, the program is able to welcome players who aren’t students in Amherst.
Slavik offered some advice for anyone thinking of giving her sport a try.
“Just come on our and see what it is,” she said. “We start off slow and everyone isn’t out here just killing each other on the pitch. Come see what type of girls are playing. We’ll get you where you need to be regardless of shape, size, or athletic ability.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.