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Max Dalton, Off-Piste in NZ

  • 19 Feb 2019
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All photos with the Mount Maunganui club in New Zealand

Max Dalton may be new to the sport of rugby, but she is a veteran high-performance athlete. The 17-year-old is a recent graduate of The Winter Sports School in Park City, Utah, where she developed into a top student-athlete and competitive alpine ski racer. It’s with similar pace and intensity that Dalton is now pursuing rugby. With less than a year’s experience, she has taken her rugby education to New Zealand and hopes the exercise leads to collegiate opportunities.

By six years old, Dalton knew she wanted to ski in the Olympics. The Poconos served as her training ground, but once she started to show real promise, the Daltons knew they had to relocate to a more serious environment. “The best snow on earth” was a good place to start, and once the family moved to Park City, they discovered The Winter Sports School (WSS). The public charter school caters to its winter athletes, fielding an April-November school year that supports the many activities that revolve around a high-achieving athlete and/or student.

“It was a completely different classroom dynamic once I walked through the door at WSS,” Dalton compared lifestyles. “Every student there is driven in one way or another, whether it be in sports and/or academics. The environment is diverse and filled with good-natured competition, and all of the teachers and faculty care extensively for each individual student.”

There was a good balance of challenge and support, and the experience developed good habits in Dalton. She knows high-load, high-intensity training programs, is internally motivated, and leans on a diverse athletics background (swimming, softball, volleyball, crew, wrestling, triathlon, field hockey) to adapt her skills to new sports.

But as Dalton matured, her relationship with skiing changed.

“The reason I decided to stop skiing was mainly due to the limited opportunities found in the ski racing community,” Dalton explained. “It is a sport that requires a lot of logistical planning, hard work, and courage, but can offer little reward to those who are in the process of trying to make a break. I also found myself missing the team sport dynamic, because while I was on a ski team of about 30 athletes, the racing is still individual.”

Enter rugby. In April 2018 Dalton followed a friend to a Wasatch High School practice and fell in love. That summer Dalton was selected to the Utah Cannibals 15s team that won the Regional Cup Tournament in Boise, Idaho. She started at wing and then worked her way inward to her preferred position, scrumhalf.

“For starters, ski racers are used to the high level of strength training that one needs to be successful in rugby,” Dalton explained translatable attributes between skiers and rugby players. “Skiers also use short powerful bursts of energy throughout an entire race course, and I find it similar to the bursts of energy you would use in a rugby game.

“Another translation, although not entirely athletic, is the discipline it takes to be a competitive ski racer,” she added. “We are accountable for our equipment, warm ups, training, video, ski tuning, and so much more, and I think that the work ethic behind that is necessary to be successful in rugby.”

Dalton saw a new path forming and contacted Karen Fong Donoghue at The Rugger’s Edge on possibilities of playing rugby in college. It wasn’t until the final months high school (where she graduated as the Kay Wright Memorial Award for the Outstanding Student 2018 – one of many academic accolades) that Dalton started talking to college coaches and making visits. On Thanksgiving Day, she learned of New Zealand’s Inside Running Academy, a full-time immersive program that not only affords residents personalized, highly skilled attention, but also places them with a local club to experience rugby on the ground. By January 6, 2019, Dalton was settling into Mount Maunganui, three hours outside of Auckland.

Today, Dalton is one of seven women at the academy, and there are also approximately 20 boys training.

“The rugby is amazing. I am currently playing with local professionals, soon-to-be Black Ferns, Netherlands National Team players, Japanese professional players, and so many more,” Dalton enthused. “The level of rugby that I came from was pretty high level for the U.S. high school age, but this is a whole other world. It is impossible not to improve when I am surrounded by so many HP athletes 24/7! The intensity is insane, and I am excited to see how I take what I’ve been learning here back home.”

The week is jam-packed with workouts – ranging from hardcore conditioning, to the weight room, to speed-focused sessions – skill blocks, team challenges, scrimmages and tournament days. Sunday is the off day.

Dalton has been training at scrumhalf and enjoying the education.

“I think the halfback position really features my speed and quick feet. Due to the nature of the position, I always need to be looking for the next phase, switching directions quickly, and maintaining good pace across the field,” Dalton explained. “However, due to the numbers within my club team I just started playing prop and throwing the ball in the lineouts!”

As one might expect, Dalton did well at prop, too.

“[I] found that the prop position featured my strength well. I also think my ability to adapt to a new position also just features my flexibility and diversity on the field,” Dalton added. “To me, it is important that I am able to play all positions because it furthers your understanding of the game. It also gives coaches options when players in other positions are injured and you are available.”

Dalton will be in New Zealand through the end of March and will continue conversations with colleges in hopes of playing this fall. But whatever the future brings for Dalton, one can safely assume that she’ll remain opportunistic and at full tilt.

#MaxDalton #TheRuggersEdge #InsideRunningAcademy

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