Olivia Callister tuned in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and immediately found herself drawn to rugby.
Interested then in playing football, she changed her plans and joined Minnetonka’s club rugby team as a ninth-grader last year. When the season began in the spring, Callister knew she had found the right fit.
She’s playing this summer with Minnetonka’s rugby sevens, a pared-down, faster version of the sport. The Olympics use this version of the game, featuring seven players and seven-minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players and 40-minute halves.
Though the sevens game was her introduction, Callister prefers having 15 players from each team on the field.
“There’s more tackling and more rucks,” she said. “The sevens is all about moving the ball and running.”
Callister and teammates Maria Strom, a Minnetonka senior, and Savannah Wade, a junior at Mound-Westonka, were chosen for Select Sides, an all-star team.
“We haven’t won a game yet, but I think we’re working together as a team better and really getting into the flow,” said Wade, who joined Minnetonka because it was the closest club team to her home.
On the boys’ side, Minnetonka senior Myles Hanks carried on a family rugby tradition. His grandfather and father played in their native England, and his two older sisters played for their high school club team. Hanks, playing with Minnesota Select Side, has traveled to compete in Colorado, Indiana and Washington.
“I’ve basically devoted my life to rugby at this point,” said Hanks, who has college rugby offers. Though he prefers the full version of rugby, Hanks said playing summer sevens helps him “get better at something I’m less comfortable with.”
Paddling to glory
When Arndt Poecher learned via Instagram that his daughter, Ina, enjoyed kayaking, he casually remarked, “Hey, I used to do that.”
That’s the day Ina Poecher realized success in the sport was her birthright. A senior at Mounds View this fall, she competed for the United States in the junior world championship in Romania in late July. She earned the trip thanks to consistently strong finishes at the U.S. team trials in Georgia, making her the third family member to compete at a high level.
Her father competed in his native Germany. His cousin’s wife, Liane Graef, was an Olympic alternate. Poecher, born in the U.S., said the sport “fell into my lap, honestly.” She’s worked hard from there to make herself something special.
Poecher overcomes her 5-2 height with technique honed with Twin Cities Paddlesports. Her power comes from the Mounds View weight room, often lifting with football players.
“One day Goldy [assistant football coach Matt Goldsmith] asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” Poecher said. “When I said that I wanted to get to the world championships someday, he said, ‘OK, we’ll get you there.’ After that, the guys started calling me Worlds.”
She recently competed in the four-person kayak, 500-meter race in Romania, with dreams of competing in the 2020 or 2024 Olympics.
“I crossed that finish line with a smile on my face,” she said. “We didn’t win or make it to the final, but I was so happy to have done my best and performed the best to our team’s abilities.”
Shooting for the stars
Alex Bourdage, then 14, approached local standout archer Ted Gravelle and made his aspirations clear.
“He said, ‘I want to shoot at Olympics,’ ” said Gravelle, recalling their introduction at Bwana Archery. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to shoot league with me, shoot tournaments with me and practice a lot.’ He never quit.”
Now 19, Bourdage moved from Eagan to the Olympic Training Center in San Diego to pursue this 2020 Olympic dream. He recently qualified for the U.S. youth archery championship team that will compete Oct. 7 in Argentina. He shoots with a recurve bow, which he described as “an older-looking bow made with modern material, not a modern, compound hunting bow.”
He holds a combined 13 state men’s Olympic Juniors and Olympic Cadet records.
“He’s something special,” Gravelle said. “I have mentored others, but Alex surpasses them not only in what he’s learned but also with the equipment. He’s one of the best in the country, maybe the world, at tuning his bow.”
Bourdage, who attended Rosemount High School, played basketball and initially took up archery as a hobby. He said setting the first of his state records taught him that he was “really decent at this.” He practices at Bwana Archery and in his basement, shooting an estimated 2,500 arrows per week. Outdoor competitions consist of shooting at 122-centimeter targets from a range of 77 yards.
“It’s all about repetition, going through the same shot process each time, like golf,” Bourdage said.
On his rise from shooting as hobby to the upcoming competition in Argentina, Bourdage said: “Archery was a chance to do something different. Kind of one of those, ‘If I set my mind to it, what can I do?’ ”