Fishers High School Rugby Preview
FHS Rugby Seeks Another Milestone Year
Writer / Josh Brown
The Fishers High School Rugby team has taken its fair share of lumps over the years. Each of the last three seasons the Tigers have reached the state championship match, falling short in 2014 and 2015, the latter of which was a two-point loss to Hamilton Southeastern.
Last year, though, the team dished out some lumps of its own. The Tigers trounced Avon to snatch the 2016 Division I State Championship — the first in the program’s brief history.
“The kids were ecstatic,” said head coach John Harley. “It was exciting. I was happy for them.”
Curt Trout, Director of Coaching and co-founder of FHS Rugby, got the program off and running in 2011. That year they had about 17 kids participate. Today, the program boasts more than 70 athletes.
The team’s success in 2016 garnered national attention as FHS Rugby finished 30th in Goff Rugby Report’s national ranking of all high school programs in the country. The Tigers were also named the Breakout Program of the Year.
Trout was confident they would have success when he felt the itch to start the program in 2011, but he didn’t know how long it might take.
“I try not to brag about it,” Trout said. “The best part is that it has been a team effort. We started with the fundamentals and taught the right things early on. We were able to get some really good players, coaches and parents. I’m super happy with the progress we’ve made in just five years. It is great to have alumni come back and see what they started and how far the program has come.”
In early January, the Tigers got back to work. The 2017 team has its sights set higher than another state championship — they want to be major players in the national tournament, too.
Experience is the greatest factor on the Tigers’ side. FHS Rugby has 13 seniors returning to the squad for the 2017 season, marking one of the most tried-and-tested teams that Harley has led in his four years of coaching.
Several seniors on the team have committed or are currently being pursued by college rugby programs. Mason Thomas and Logan Weaver committed to the University of Southern Indiana. Angelo Howze is being recruited by Kutztown University and the University of Kentucky, which are both recognized as strong rugby programs. Michael Nettleton, a junior, is already being pursued by Kutztown, Kentucky, Dartmouth and Penn State.
“It is a group that has played together since their freshman year,” Harley said. “We hope the experience will carry us. Last year, when we lost to Cathedral by four points, they were mad. I think that was a turning point. After that loss we ran through everybody. They took a turn. We are hoping that fire carries over this season.”
At the end of March, the FHS Rugby team is taking a 10-day trip to Ireland, but it’s much more than a sightseeing excursion. The Tigers are bringing along 36 players to square off in six matches against Ireland’s top teams. One of the matches will be against a junior division team of Munster Club — a professional rugby club in Ireland.
The Tigers will also get face time through a training session with one of Ireland’s former national coaches. The goal for the trip is to get battle-tested before the team’s season opener.
“We will take our lumps, but we are going over there to win and to learn,” Harley said. “Hopefully, when we come back to Indiana we will be prepared to run the table during the season.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to be the best team in Indiana,” Trout added. “That is why we have taken these steps like the Ireland trip, to face more competition.”
The Tigers’ greatest challenge in 2017 is staying focused and closing out games. FHS narrowly lost to Cathedral last year in the Midwest Championship and lost to Brownsburg on the final play of the game. With the alignment changing and the Tigers now included in the Super League this season, FHS will need to defeat those top teams in order to reach the state championship again and earn an invite to the national tournament.
The Tigers will get another crack at Brownsburg in their first league game April 14. The evening match will be under the lights at IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium.
“High school teams have never played there before,” Trout said. “It should be a great experience for the kids. Typically, rugby matches happen during the day, but it will be pretty cool playing in a college stadium under the lights.”
“This team is focused right now,” Harley added. “I’m hoping they stay dialed in. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. They work hard.”
For more information on FHS Rugby, visit fisherstigersathletics.com/rugby.