Summit rugby senior signs to play for physical Central Washington college |

Summit rugby senior signs to play for physical Central Washington college

Summit Tigers rugby star Maleena Mero, right, possesses the ball during a Summit High School rugby game in 2019.
Photo by Ambur Vincze

Growing up in Kremmling, Maleena Mero was familiar with traditional sports such as volleyball, basketball and track. But after her family moved to Heeney when she was in eighth grade, Mero was presented with a sporting opportunity that would change the course of her future: rugby.

With the Summit High School girls rugby program, Mero found the supportive community of teammates and friends she felt she lacked with those other sports back in Kremmling. Almost immediately, she felt the motivation to become one of the best players in head coach Karl Barth’s storied Tigers program.

“The second I hit that field as a freshman, the second I tried to pass that (rugby) ball — and I had no idea how to pass the ball — I told myself I was going to figure out how to do well,” Mero said

In the middle of a seemingly endless run of high school state championships, Barth noticed right away the effort Mero put in four years ago. She had some solid athleticism, but more than that, she had a fire of ambition. As she looked up to then-Tigers elders and current Harvard Crimson players Cassidy Bargell and PK Vincze, Sacred Heart’s Nicole Kimball and Lindenwood’s Jordan Elam, Mero set lofty goals.

Along with becoming a top player on the Tigers side as a junior and senior, Mero achieved one of her goals when she signed on to play in college with Central Washington University. The Ellensburg, Washington-based team is full of physical, prideful players from the West Coast and countries like Ireland, New Zealand and Brazil, Barth said. Mero said she’s excited to fall into a smaller, quicker loose forward role for the Wildcats’ bruising, smash-mouth style of rugby.

“She worked really hard to make it happen,” Barth said about Mero. “She wasn’t blessed from the beginning with all of the talent in the world to come out and do well. She is one of those cases where she got out and worked hard to take what she had and made the most of it. And she’s one of those players that gets along with everyone. I know her work ethic has rubbed off on tons of our players. And to younger players, she’s a role model.”

After a fall in which the Tigers weren’t able to go for their 13th-straight state championship due to novel coronavirus regulations, Mero is the first Summit senior rugby player to sign on to play in college.

Though she likely won’t be the last 2020-21 Tigers rugby graduate to play in college, Mero is a pioneer in the sense that she made the decision early to go to a school no other Tigers player has committed to before. Mero said she was drawn to Central Washington because she’s never spent much time in the Northwest.

That pioneer spirit combined with the attraction of the diverse population and geology of the area — within driving distance of mountains, beaches, desert and forests — made Mero think it was the place for her.

Barth thinks Mero can excel with the Wildcats program because she has consistently been one of the more physical, unselfish Tigers players in recent years. He thinks Mero will embrace whatever role the Wildcats need her to play.

“She’s good at finding out what needs to be done,” Barth said.

Mero has done it before. It was the summer transitioning from her sophomore to junior seasons when, with certain pivotal seniors shipped off to college, Mero had the realization that “I can’t miss any more tackles.” She channeled fear into confidence, becoming one of Barth’s most reliable top-line players last fall thanks to her defensive skills that translated into many forced turnovers created through her tackles.

Like Barth, Mero is hopeful the Tigers will play in the spring, mainly because she’d like to take younger girls under her wing like older players took her under their wings.

And, of course, she hopes to get some final wisdom from Barth.

“There’s a big challenge that waits ahead for me or any of the girls,” Mero said. “For people going into sports as freshman next year at all, it’s going to be very difficult if we haven’t been able to actively compete and practice those sports. It’s difficult, so if we get to tackle and get everything done, in a much more sanitary way, that’d be great.”

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