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Tritons set to open rugby season

7s campaign starts with weekend trip to Florida

Submitted photo: Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Matt Surles-Davis served as a captain for Iowa Central this past fall.

Iowa Central rugby coach Brent Nelson sees this spring as an opportunity for his program to reestablish itself among the nation’s most competitive programs.

The Tritons visit Gainesville, Fla. this weekend to open their spring season at the “Sunshine 7s” tournament. This is the first step toward the 2024 Collegiate Rugby Championships, which will be in Maryland April 26-28.

“We want to set the tone for this spring and let the country know Iowa Central is back in full force,” said Nelson, a Humboldt native and ICCC graduate who is in his ninth year at the helm. “We have a few tournaments scheduled this spring, and we’ll continue to develop and get ready for the end of April.

“Long term, we want our boys to have an amazing experience together and make memories that will last a lifetime.”

The Tritons are anchored by a number of veteran players, including Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Matt Surles-Davis. The former Fort Dodge Stags standout was named to the National Collegiate Rugby “Hot 100” list for his efforts last fall.

“Matt is as good of a leader as we could ask for,” Nelson said. “His career here will be closing (at Iowa Central), but he has laid claim to being one of the best we’ve ever had.

“Noah Champion has also performed well and continues to be dedicated to the cause. Takudzwa Musingwini is a freshman in school, but he conducts himself like a veteran and the boys follow his lead. He is an extremely talented rugby player and phenomenal teammate.”

Nelson isn’t worried about the drive or priorities of this particular group, which will have seven scheduled tournaments between now and nationals for the 7s campaign.

“There is great chemistry on this team, and the training we’ve done so far this semester has been extremely focused,” Nelson said. “The coaching staff can sense the hunger. This is a highly-competitive environment, and those who have stuck it out can see the benefits of their efforts.

“Motivating these guys to work hard is not difficult. There is strong leadership, and they set the tone.”

Dalton Rosalez — a freshman who is another FDSH graduate — will also be a key contributor moving forward, according to Nelson.

“Dalton continues to improve and show a strong work ethic,” Nelson said. “He brings it every day. He’s extremely coachable and fits in very well with his teammates. He will get his opportunities, and we are counting on him.”

The bigger picture is always a prevailing theme in Nelson’s program. The Tritons have experienced plenty of success under his leadership, but Nelson continues to push the squad outside of its comfort zone in order for his players to maximize their potential both on and off the pitch.

“This is a rugged schedule,” Nelson admitted. “There’s no getting around that. But we embrace challenges here. Our rugby program is truly blessed to have such strong support from our administration. They have always backed me to continue to push our young men to break barriers.

“We’re a community college competing against some of the top four-year schools in the country. Pushing boundaries breeds successful people. If you don’t challenge yourself, are you ever truly great? We try to pattern ourselves after the community of Fort Dodge. I absolutely love the mantra of ‘Fort Dodge vs Everybody.’ Triton rugby is not going to back down from a challenge. Never have, never will.”

Nelson believes improvement comes when both effort and execution find a standard of consistency.

“Being better at the pass/catch, making good tackles, being stronger, being more fit…all the tangible things that make you a better rugby player are a direct result of the attitude you bring to your training,” Nelson said. “It starts with being honest and objective about what you’re doing.

“We try to teach to always be accountable. Your attitude toward school, toward being coached, toward your teammates will make skill acquisition easier. In a high-performance environment, attitude is everything. We tell the guys to change how they respond or react to tough situations by using ‘I get to’ rather than ‘I have to.'”

Nelson is adamant about evolving daily and concentrating on the bigger picture — especially as one of the smaller schools in the nation at the Div. I level.

“Ultimately, the goal is to win. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep score,” Nelson said. “However, if you can look in the mirror and honestly say you were better today than you were yesterday…that’s also a win.”

Nelson sees both his program’s identity and his own built in the foundation of what it means to be a Triton.

“I believe in Iowa Central because I’m a product of Iowa Central,” Nelson said. “I grew up in Humboldt and then played basketball for Coach (Dennis) Pilcher here. I’m a proud Triton who earned an AA degree. I love Iowa Central. This is home for me.

“I have always operated well from a place of the underdog. I have learned that rugby is a game of mistakes, and how you handle those mistakes will determine your fate. I’ve made mistakes throughout my life and I feel like I’m making improvements to be a better coach and person. That’s what I want for our young people, too. First, to get an education so they can be employable in their field of choice. But more importantly, to be better men.”

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