By the time that Hailey Wyatt joins her new rugby team at Quinnipiac University this August, she will have been playing the sport for just about one year.
In fewer than 12 months, Wyatt went from an inductee with no knowledge of rules or how to play to second leading scorer for the Summit High Lady Tigers, joining them in winning state championships and traveling to nationals.
Now, the 18-year-old Summit High graduate will continue her love affair with rugby by taking her game to the collegiate level, helped in part by an athletic scholarship from the Connecticut-based university.
Tackling a new sport
Wyatt transferred from Fredrick to Summit in the summer of her senior year. She had spent the past 13 years as a gymnast and was looking for something new on which to test her competitive edge. That happened to be rugby.
Hearing that the rugby team was “really good” and had several openings due to players graduating the following year, Wyatt decided to give it a try.
“I didn’t know what it was, I just knew that there was a ball and that’s it,” she said with a laugh.
The strength and athleticism from years in gymnastics came to her aid and got her a spot on the team. From that point on, the learning curve was steep, but Wyatt was ready to climb.
“Our first game, I basically had no idea what to do. I knew where to stand, kind of,” she said. Nevertheless, she made four tackles, which earned the notice of her coach, Karl Barth.
Unlike gymnastics, rugby is a contact sport with a rough reputation, yet Wyatt said she had no qualms about getting into the thick of things.
“When my adrenaline’s going, I don’t even feel it, I just get back up,” she said of the times she’s been taken down in the field. She also does her fair share of tackling and does not hesitate to define herself as an aggressive player.
“I don’t know where that comes from, … but I was all for it,” she said. “I was like, let me get out there and tackle someone!”
Wyatt’s teammates shared her enthusiasm and despite losing several strong senior members, the Lady Tigers took the state championship for the fifth consecutive year, defeating opponent Castle Rock 30-5 and earning a spot in the national competition.
Wyatt includes the state win among the highlights of her career so far, saying it was “the best feeling ever.” Although the Lady Tigers didn’t make it beyond the first round at nationals, they won their consolation round and enjoyed the time together as a team.
The team aspect is part of what made Wyatt fall in love with the sport, she said. “It was like a family. I loved every single one of them. I loved playing with them; I could not get enough. After state was over, I was happy, but I didn’t want it to end.”
Having team members was a new feeling for Wyatt, who was used to the intense individuality of gymnastics.
“It was a world of difference, knowing (when) I was out there I was playing for those girls. I put my heart out there for them and my coach,” she said. “(In gymnastics) you just don’t have that team feeling, like when you go out there and score that try, everyone comes in and it’s like you all worked for that. In gymnastics when you really scored that great score, it was just you. I mean, it was awesome, but it was just you.”
Looking to the future
Knowing that she wanted to keep playing rugby, Wyatt and her mother looked around for different opportunities. Although many colleges had rugby clubs, fewer had more structured teams, which Wyatt was after.
Through a player on a rival team, Wyatt learned that Quinnipiac University offered rugby scholarships and applied. After watching her performance at the national competition, the coach offered Wyatt the scholarship.
Barth, Wyatt’s high school coach, wasn’t surprised.
“Hailey works extremely hard on and off the field and that has been her key to success,” he stated in an email. “She puts her time in the weight room and learning the game and is incredibly coachable. She brings focus, athleticism, and leadership and has a really steep growth curve; I think that has really attracted the Quinnipiac coaches.”
As pleased as she was with the news about the scholarship, Wyatt insisted a visit to the campus before making her decision. Fortunately, she loved it and said she is looking forward to exploring the East Coast.
Off the field, Wyatt plans to major in PreMed with the aim of eventually becoming an anesthesiologist, a professional goal inspired by her mother’s work as a nurse.
As with most incoming college freshman, Wyatt is running the full gamut of emotions, from nervousness to excitement. Most of all, however, she’s eager to meet her teammates and become part of another rugby family.
“I’m like, yes that is what I loved the most at Summit,” she said. “We all loved each other, we loved the coach, so that’s exciting that I’m going on to a team that’s really close.”