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Strasko, Eagle in the Making

  • 13 Jun 2016

Strasko in the tackle /// Photo courtesy Life University Rugby



Last week, USA Rugby named 26 players to its Super Series roster, which includes seven national team debutantes. Three of those uncapped athletes are in college, and we’re taking a look at each in advance of the international tournament. First up: Nicole Strasko.


After four years representing Central College’s basketball team, the Iowa native wasn’t looking for more athletic opportunities when she committed to Life University. She moved to Marietta, Ga., to become a doctor of chiropractic, but her enrollment coincided with the Running Eagles’ budding women’s rugby program, and it was only a matter of time before the two intersected each other.


Despite her lack of rugby experience, Strasko moved into a leadership role quickly, beginning her role as forwards captain in spring 2014. She launched in stardom during Life’s first showing at the CRCs in 2015, punctuating highlight reels with body-folding tackles and rangy tries. A well formed, supportive coaching staff expedited her individual and team’s development.


“I can’t say enough about how Life University has molded me and helped me grow into the player I am today,” Strasko began. “I can remember my first game just running around looking to hit someone, because that’s all I knew about the game. I have come a long way since that day, and I have a long list of people to thank for that, and at the top of that list is head coach Rosalind Chou. She is the rock of our program and has such passion for growing us as players in the game and young women in society.”


The 7s prop and 15s loose forward also acknowledged coach Andrew McNeil, who has been with the program since day one, and injected patience and persistence into the group; Jake McFadden, Shaun Davies and Dylan Fawsitt for their guidance and skill work; and strength-and-conditioning coach Kimberly Knipe.


“That may be her title, but she does much more than that,” Strasko commended the S&C coach. “She has taught us nutrition, mental toughness, ownership, and a lot of responsibility. Whether she knows it or not, she has been a personal mentor and role model for me.”


Strasko has remained visible during the previous year between a very active Life University team (which was named The Breakdown’s Best College of Spring 2016) and USA Rugby assemblies. She attended the first-ever National All-Star Competition (NASC) in June 2015 and followed that performance by helping the first Women’s Collegiate All-American (WCAA) 7s team to an Elite City 7s title. She later proved her worth at the December NASC, which produced the senior Eagle pool for the 2016 international fixtures. She was later spotted training with the USA Women’s 7s team as it prepared for the 2016 Atlanta 7s in Life’s backyard.


In the college sphere, Strasko was instrumental in leading the Running Eagles to a fantastic DI Elite run, which was bookended by 7s title-winning campaigns in Atlanta, Cary, N.C., and Chester, Pa. After winning the 2016 CRC 7s championship, Strasko flew from Philadelphia to Denver to catch the second half of the June NASC, and her two days in Colorado were enough to earn her Super Series selection.


“Each NASC I feel more at home. I am getting to know the ladies more, and I see how much we all have in common and the love for the game and our country,” Strasko reflected on last week’s assembly. “So, I feel vibrant and motivated as a younger player of the game. So many of the players are approachable. I have had a connection with players such as Kelsi Stockert from previous camps and Megan Foster from WCAA 7s, both of whom were my roommates this NASC, too. Stacey Bridges and Molly Kinsella were good mentors through this NASC, and well-known Penn State rival-buddy Bitsy Cairns was a great leader on-field, reminding us of important growth-points throughout the game.”


This previous year has been packed with “firsts” as Strasko and team have sped toward national recognition, and now the flanker is poised to become the Running Eagles’ first capped women’s Eagle.


“I’ve learned to never limit myself, and rugby has taught me a lot about the mental side of playing and dreaming,” Strasko concluded. “So, I do believe dreams come true as long as you believe in them and act on them. However, it is all still surreal to me, and I feel so fortunate and humbled by the entire process. My mentality going forward is to take every opportunity that comes my way with humility and do my best to be my best. And what’s to come will come.”


The Super Series games will be contested on July 1, 5 and 9 in Salt Lake City.


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