2016-10-20 / Sports

Orca Youth Rugby is on a collision course

Local teams gear up for upcoming season on the pitch
By Jonathan Andrade


SQUAD GOALS—The Ventura County Orca Youth Rugby Club U-10 team won the Central Coast Tournament earlier this year. Pictured in the top row, from left, are Orca All-Stars Jesus Miguel, Dylan Wood and Jason Vincent. Middle row: Danny Miguel, Wyatt Allen and Edward Cooke. Bottom row: Jesse Lone Elk, Jones Tonuu and Sam Kilpatrick. The team will start training next month. 
Photo collage courtesy of Jen Kilpatrick SQUAD GOALS—The Ventura County Orca Youth Rugby Club U-10 team won the Central Coast Tournament earlier this year. Pictured in the top row, from left, are Orca All-Stars Jesus Miguel, Dylan Wood and Jason Vincent. Middle row: Danny Miguel, Wyatt Allen and Edward Cooke. Bottom row: Jesse Lone Elk, Jones Tonuu and Sam Kilpatrick. The team will start training next month. Photo collage courtesy of Jen Kilpatrick

It’s not a fad. Orca Youth Rugby Club is here for the long haul.

More than 100 young athletes from Acorn country have been bitten by the rugby bug.

Paul Cooke, who moved to Westlake two years ago from Cambridge, England, knows how easy it is to fall in love with the sport. The Orca Rugby coach knew about the sport growing up, but he got hooked as a student at St. Mary’s University-Twickenham, which is a short drive from Twickenham Stadium, home turf of the country’s national rugby team.


SCRUM—The Ventura County Orca Rugby Club U-18 team captured gold at the California State sevens competition this summer. SCRUM—The Ventura County Orca Rugby Club U-18 team captured gold at the California State sevens competition this summer. “I hadn’t played rugby really, but you get immersed in the rugby culture when you move to that town,” Cooke said.

The same rugby culture Cooke became enamored with in England is seeping into Ventura County.

Tim Hoffman, the head coach of the U-18 team, started Orca Rugby in 2002. The club, which has ballooned to seven teams for players between the ages of 8 and 18, competes against other Southern California Youth Rugby club teams between San Luis Obispo and San Diego.

Athletes begin training for the upcoming season with conditioning and tackling drills in November. Tuesday night practices are held at Thousand Oaks Community Park. Saturday morning practices take place at Monte Vista Middle School in Camarillo, where Orca Rugby plays its home matches.

The season starts in January and ends in May with the So Cal Youth Rugby Club Championships.

“The players can’t wait for the season to start again,” Cooke said. “They’re excited to get back to playing.”

Avianna Raupach, a 15-yearold Simi Valley High sophomore, is entering her second season playing the sport. She joined the club after moving from Washington state before her freshman year. Raupach, who played soccer for eight years, said it wasn’t tough to pick up the new sport.

“Once I saw rugby, I dropped everything,” she said. “Soccer basically disappeared in my eyes. I got into the club as soon as I could.”

Raupach, a member of the Orca U-16 girls’ team, said her coaches, who hail from countries including Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Mexico, teach the basics of the sport before tossing players into scrums.

“The coaches are really cool,” Raupach said. “They know you’re starting, but they can get you going really fast if you’re able to keep up.”

Cooke’s son, Edward, is a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Westlake Elementary School. Edward, who has been playing rugby for as long as he can remember, said the coaches teach safety on the pitch.

“They teach you how to tackle correctly in rugby,” he said. “There’s some dangerous ways to tackle that we’re not allowed to do.”

Edward plays baseball and soccer, but rugby is his favorite sport.

“It’s a really fun sport because you get to tackle and you don’t stop moving,” he said. “It’s not like football when you have to stop and start, stop and start. You just carry on moving and moving”

Joey Barone, a Simi Valley junior who used to play baseball and football, enjoys the physicality of rugby. He joined the club after watching his friend and current teammate John Grant play a game two years ago. Barone is entering his second season of rugby.

“I like all the physical contact and all the nonstop effort,” he said. “In rugby, you go to war every Saturday. It’s you and your boys for 40 minutes, nonstop.”

Barone said he hopes more athletes give rugby a chance.

“I hope it blows up around here,” he said. “I want people to come out and try it. Come to a practice. If you like it, keep doing it. It’s so much fun.”

Raupach said her favorite part of playing rugby is getting to know other athletes in the area. She hopes more girls join the club.

“It’s considered a pretty masculine sport because of how aggressive it is, but there’s obviously more girls like me that want to play,” she said.

Everyone is welcome on the rugby field.

“The club is basically a huge family,” Raupach said. “After practices we get into a huge circle. It’s like there’s no differences between us. Obviously, there are so many shapes and sizes. The sport accepts absolutely anyone.”

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