While there’s plenty of buzz around a potential NHL expansion squad, Seattle already has a new sports team to call its own. The Seattle Seawolves, a professional rugby team, take the field for the first time this Sunday, April 22 at Starfire Stadium against the San Diego Legions as part of the Major League Rugby’s inaugural season.
Founded in 2017, the Seawolves got their start from the ground up, recruiting players from all over the country and around the world to form a multi-generational team that bring a variety of skills to their 30-man roster. They’re ready for their first match.
Carly MacKinnon, the marketing and public relations coordinator for the Seawolves, said she thinks that since Seattle is such a sports-centric city, the Seawolves will fit right in. With that said, there have still been some challenges getting the new team started on the right foot.
“Luckily there’s a lot of really passionate Seattle fans when it comes to sports here. So we’ve actually got a lot of those Seahawks fans and some people that like watching the Storm, and the Mariners, and the Sounders and everybody. And they’re kind of like ‘Ooh, another team to add to the collection,’ ” said MacKinnon. “But there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about rugby. So just making sure that we’re kind of leading with our brand and our messaging and when our players are interviewing with the media and getting it out there that we’re being clear about what rugby is and what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to be ‘Oh hey, me too, don’t forget about us.’ We want to be like, ‘Hey, we’re also here to stay, we’re a big deal too and not just the other guys.’ ”
The team has a number of seasoned players who have been playing rugby for most of their lives, and are ready to lead their team to victory in its first season. One such player is Eric Duechle—a 6-foot-5-inch “Beast”—who was a former USA Eagle (United States of America Rugby Football Union national team) and Air Force captain. A Kentucky native, Duechle has been playing rugby since he was a senior in high school, and has been on his fair-share of nationally-recognized teams since then, giving him an edge on the field. After all of the traveling he has done with the military, he said Seattle is his favorite place by far, and that’s why he chose to play rugby here.
“I got a couple offers from major league rugby teams and Seattle was the place I wanted to be,” he said. “This is one of the greatest places on earth. Seattle, Washington is just so amazing. I love it.”
Duechle’s teammate Phil Mack has a great deal of experience both in the half scrum and on the sidelines. The Canadan native has been coaching on-and-off for a while now, and was the first Canadian player to appear in the 50 HSBC World Sevens Series (the Rugby World Cup) matches.
“It’s exciting. I look around this team, and I’ve played against a number of these players. So for me, it’s refreshing to actually suit up and play with them,” Mack said. “You know you put a lot of work in and we’re focusing a lot on details, the little things that should pay off, but you know it’s rugby and it’s a chaotic game. It’s all in our control and we could only ask for the best.”
Olive Kilifi, 31, grew up in the Seattle area just wanted to play rugby in his home city. He said he has enjoyed being on a team that is just starting out, but has noticed some minor challenges.
“It has it’s ups and downs, but it’s been a good experience,” Kilifi said. “All of us come from different places, so just having the right forms of communication and being on the same page. I think that’s been the biggest challenge of all—just trying to get everyone on the same page in such a short amount of time.”
As for the sport’s broad appeal, MacKinnon points out that rugby is one of the fasted growing team sports for women, and that it’s very relatable in terms of other sports.
“It’s got the strategy of football. It has the flow of soccer and basketball. It has the kicking, it has the passes, it has the epic hits without guys too often getting carted off the field—the play keeps going,” she said. “There’s just a lot for fans to watch. I know it can be kind of scary to not know what’s going on, but I actually think that adds to the element and excitement. People can’t look away. It’s kind of like a good train wreck … you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
The Seawolves kickoff the season against the Legions at their new home base at Starfire Sports this Sunday, April 22 at 5 p.m. Single tickets are sold out, but season tickets are still available. The MLR season runs through the mid-June, and three Seawolves games will be televised nationally on CBSSN.
A version of this story original appeared in the Tukwila Reporter.