Santa Barbara Rugby Academy trains SBCC players for Olympics


Nate Stephenson

Sebastian Thogersen prepares to pass the ball to teammates during the SBCC men’s rugby practice on Monday, March 11, 2019, at Elings Park in Santa Barbara, Calif. The team worked on spacing, passing and communication durning the practice.

Max Mullins , Staff Writer

One of City College’s most successful sports teams is also one that many students don’t realize exists.

The Santa Barbara Rugby Academy is a club for City College students that is one of 10 National Development Academies in the United States. The development academies are sanctioned by the nationwide Olympic Development Program, so olympic coaches work with players to prepare them for high-level rugby.

“It’s a great way for our guys to have an accelerated pathway towards the Olympic team,” said Kevin Battle, the head coach and director of the program.

The men’s team was established in 2009 and the women’s more recently in 2017. Battle, who has coached rugby for 19 years, is involved with both teams. Kelly Griffin, a former Olympian for the US Women’s National team in rugby sevens, also coaches the women’s team.

Battle said that he takes pride in developing talented youth both on and off the pitch, and considers that an even more important goal of the program than winning games.

“That’s why we’re here,” he said in an interview. “To play good rugby, but ultimately to help guys and to help women accelerate themselves into life.”

The academy has produced 28 players for four-year schools, three professional rugby players, and one player for the US National Team according to the official website.

The focus on the future has not prevented Santa Barbara Rugby from playing well now.

The team is in the midst of a strong season that has featured a 76-0 victory over UC Santa Cruz, a 36-21 victory over USC, and a close 22-26 loss against Saint Mary’s College, the third ranked college rugby program in the nation per the Division 1A Rugby website.

Most SBRA players have experience playing rugby before college, and Battle said that number has increased as the sport has gained popularity in the US. However, rugby experience in not required to join the team.

Battle said that of three players without rugby experience that are new this season, two have already earned starting spots.

“I think we have a really good group of experienced players, so a player new to the game can accelerate his way up to the starting lineup if he’s got that willingness to learn and that athletic ability,” he said.

One of the players that is new to the game this year is Aspen, Colorado native Noah Shamis. He had played football in high school, and he was introduced to rugby by his college roommates, who were from England.

“It was new, different, and it looked like a cool change,” Shamis said at a rugby practice.

He said that he plans to transfer to San Diego State University and continue his rugby career there.

Player Sebastian Thogersen, on the other hand, does not lack experience.

“I want to make it pro, have ever since I was 12,” the Denmark player said.

He said he loves playing in Santa Barbara because of the good “team vibe,” the high quality rugby and the natural beauty of the area.

The team plays its home games at Elings Park. The next game for the men’s side will be at home against an Australian team, the Melbourne Kangaroos, on April 6.

The women’s side competes in rugby sevens, a faster paced version of the game with less players per team. Their season begins in the summer.