Two Minnesota natives, Garrett Bender of Minneapolis and Kathryn Johnson of Hopkins, were named Monday to the U.S. rugby teams that will play in the Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro.
Bender, 24, won a state high school rugby championship while playing at Washburn. He went to St. Cloud State to play football but soon switched back to rugby, beginning his international playing career in 2012. One of the most rugged men on the American roster, Bender has become a key member of the team, appearing in 24 World Rugby Sevens Series events.
Johnson, 24, has played rugby since her days at Hopkins High School. Like Bender, she is a member of the Youngbloodz 7s, a rugby club based in Minneapolis, and has played for the U.S. since the 2013-14 season. Johnson was part of American teams that won silver at the 2015 Pan American Games and bronze at the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013.
The 12-man men’s roster also includes New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner, who took a leave of absence from the NFL to train for the Olympics. The team will name three traveling reserves next week, and Nate Augspurger of Minneapolis —another member of the U.S. player pool and the Youngbloodz — is among five players vying for those spots.
Women’s rugby and men’s sevens rugby will make their Olympic debuts in Rio.