Petaluma grad ready for rugby

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When Petaluma High School alumnus Holden Yunger graduates from St. Mary’s this month, he accepts his diploma knowing what is coming next. What he doesn’t know is where that next will be.

Yungert won’t be using his degree to land a job or to continue his education in environmental science. That will have to wait while he pursues his true passion — rugby.

“I love the game, and I want to play it at the highest level I can,” he says.

He has already played the game at a pretty high level, leading St. Mary’s to the DI-A national championship, and leading is the proper description. The former Petaluman was named the Most Valuable Player of the collegiate championship game.

St. Mary’s club team lost only two games all season, to Brigham Young University and Scotland’s national team. The Gaels defeated Life University of Marietta, Georgia, 30-24, in the championship game. St. Mary’s played undefeated to the California Conference championship.

The press release announcing Yungert’s selection to the All-Conference team said, “An injury kept Yungert off the pitch for the second half of the 2016 season, but the senior from Petaluma made up for lost time during the 2017 campaign. A scrum half with the mentality of a forward, Yungert consistently provided clean ball to the backs, and also demanded organization around the break down.”

He is determined to continue his active playing career, although he acknowledges his options are a bit limited, but there are options.

“I’m not sure if I’ll play domestically or overseas, but I want to keep playing,” he says.

Domestically, there is the fledging Professional Rugby Organization with five teams, including one in San Francisco. On an even higher competitive level, there is SupeRugby with teams in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan.

The professional leagues are in addition to club teams from cities and towns around the country.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Yungert says.

As a youth Yungert played soccer, but he switched to rugby his freshman year at Petaluma High School, following in the footsteps of his father.

He continued throughout his high school days, playing mainly for the Marin Highlanders youth team. It is a sport he quickly learned to love.

“Think of it as calculated brutality,” he says. “In football you have the padding that gives you some feeling of invincibility. In rugby there is no padding. You have to learn to protect your body.”

He also likes the non-stop action of the sport.

“It is free-flowing,” he explains. “Once you are in there, it is non-stop.”

For the Petaluman, the camaraderie on and off the field is an important aspect of rugby.

“It is 100 percent team,” he explains. “You have 15 guys on the field, all working toward getting one guy to score. It is all about team.”

After the game is over, it’s over. “You all shake hands and have a good time,” he notes. “It is all good.”

He says rugby is as much mental as it is physical. “You need basic athleticism, but a lot of it is rugby IQ,” he explains. “A lot of it is quick thinking and quick decision making.”

One decision Yungert has already made — he is going to keep playing rugby and playing it on the highest level he can.

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