The Hawkeyes Rugby Academy was born out of the Celtic Barbarians, an international entity run by Canadian Cam Wilton. The Hawkeyes are based in the U.S. headquartered in Boise, Idaho, and has spent the past two years building momentum around the country. The idea is to eventually take their game overseas, and there is chat about a 15s tour, so long as Hawkeyes management can coordinate with USA Pathway camps and fixtures. [All photos: Rowena Wood Photography]
Between the U16 and U18 Girls, the Hawkeyes have won seven 7s titles since 2021. The U16s won gold in Edmonton, NAI and Tropical. And the U18s have taken trophies home from the New York, Los Angeles Invitational, Tropical and Kahuku 7s tournaments.
“I’m happy to see that the investment we’ve made in Idaho has paid off on the field and is helping us win multiple championships,” said Wilton, an Idaho Hawkeyes coach and VP of High Performance. “Our strong base of Idaho players has gone back to their high school programs and changed the landscape. This was evident in the rise of the new [15s] state champion and [single-school] national runner-up Rocky Mountain, led by [former] Hawkeyes manager Chris Kovac.”
Kovac was big in driving the Hawkeyes footprint in Idaho and served as program manager until this season. He’s still coaching the Rocky Mountain girls’ 15s team in the spring, and joined the Girls Club Nationals Committee (i.e., the group that hosts high school club 15s nationals) as manager. He’s also working with the forward-thinking EGRL and the possibility of a Western Division.
“The success of the Hawkeyes Academy is a reflection of the buy-in from most of the high school coaches in Idaho,” Kovac said.
In 2023, eight Idaho coaches accompanied Hawkeyes teams to major tournaments. Guest coaches have also included Olympian Abby Gustaitis and former Rugby World Cup captain Karameli Fa’ae’e, and they both led their respective teams to gold medals during their first runouts with the Hawkeyes. The height of the Hawkeyes’ reach might have been the 2023 Tropical 7s, when the program brought an army of 14 teams, and coaches and players from six countries, to Tampa, Fla.
The Hawkeyes are happiest when they see current or former members work into the USA Pathways system. It’s also why the select side wants to coordinate summer 2024 plans with the national age grades, so individuals can’t take advantage of a variety of opportunities.
“The opportunity to go with this team to a variety of tournaments like LA 7s, Tropical 7s, and NAI 7s has truly help me get to where I am now,” said Rocky Mountain’s Alyssa Hine, a Hawkeye alumna and USA U18 West Camp attendee. “These tournaments were so fun and organized. Our coaching was also elite with different staff at each tourney. This quality of play and instruction has brought my game to a new level and increased my rugby IQ.”
Although the Hawkeyes are based in Idaho, the program is responding to demand outside of state boarders. Player identification camps are taking place with more in the works.
“Our recent camps and talent ID sessions in Texas and Idaho were well received and we will be expanding our efforts into the Carolinas and Pennsylvania soon,” Wilton added.