Local rugby athlete close to making national squad | SteamboatToday.com

Local rugby athlete close to making national squad

Local athlete close to making national squad

Luke Graham

Chris Baumann runs in for a late score as Steamboat Springs ran it up on Breckenridge in a July rugby game at Whistler Field. Baumann is vying for a spot on the U.S. national team and leaves Tuesday for New Zealand, where he will gain high-level rugby experience.

— Chris Baumann insists he hasn’t done anything yet.

But a quick look down the U.S.A. Rugby team’s national roster tells a different story.

Baumann – who started playing summer rugby with Steamboat’s club team four years ago – recently made the U.S. Select XV Team – essentially, the national team’s B squad.

“When I was at this camp, I felt like it went really well,” Baumann said. “It was just a good experience.”

The 10-day training camp in Glendale featured the country’s top rugby players. Forty-four players were invited before the teams were broken down into two teams of 22.

Baumann was selected to play prop for the Select team in a game against the New Zealand Heartland.

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Not bad for a 21-year-old who has three years of rugby on his resume and still is learning the nuances of the game.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole or project, but if he puts his heart and soul into the game and continues to develop, he should set his sights on playing for the U.S.,” Select coach Dan Payne said. “I mean, if it was easy, everyone would want to do it. It’s obviously not. But he has all the tools that if he puts the work in, he could represent the U.S.”

Baumann’s rise to the top highlights the growth of rugby not only in Steamboat, but also across the nation.

As early as five years ago, the recreational team in Steamboat almost was disbanded.

But when captain Michael Hurley came to town and started to revive it, Baumann was exactly the type of athlete Hurley was looking for.

He wanted former football players and just about any type of athlete. Five years later, Steamboat has won the Mountain Rugby League twice.

“He’s definitely getting watched by the coach for the national team,” said Hurley, who Baumann considers the biggest influence on his rugby career. “He’s fully, fully on the radar. He’s one step away from making the national squad.”

On the national scale, rugby continues to become one of the United States’ fastest growing sports. Although Payne admits the national team still is years away from competing with top teams from New Zealand, England and Australia, it’s coming.

“We’re focusing on building the infrastructure,” said Payne, who also coaches at San Diego State University. “But one thing we have over those countries is, we have athletes. We drip athletes in this country. I think Chris will tell you this, too. But if he was exposed to it at a youth level, he would have taken to it like a fish to water.”

Despite his limited time, Baumann hasn’t just taken to the sport – he’s made it his life.

He leaves Tuesday for New Zealand, where he’ll play rugby through the winter for a club team.

After that, he hopes to draw interest from professional teams and have the chance to make the 22-man U.S.A. National Team.

He’s aiming to play for the United States in the 2011 World Cup and possibly the 2016 Olympics, where depending on the vote, rugby could be played.

“I just love everything about it,” said Baumann, who already has had the chance to play rugby in Scotland, England, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. “It’s just the fact that you can pretty much play anywhere, anytime. I want to see as many countries as I can and try to play at the highest level as I can.”