CLARK, N.J.-  It’s an uncommon sport, and one that’s growing in popularity.  For one Arthur L. Johnson High School rising senior, it was also how she spent her summer vacation.  Mia Lancellotti traveled across the United States playing a sport she loves: rugby.

Lancellotti traveled to Utah, Nevada and California with the Community Olympic Development Program (CODP) rugby team as its captain.

“I didn’t really expect to be named captain. I was quite humbled by that,” Lancellotti said. “I’ve been a part of other higher-level teams, but this team really molded well together and we came together as a team. Our sportsmanship and camaraderie for each other, you could see it on the field, how much we wanted it and the passion we all had. It was amazing being a part of that.”

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Rugby, a type of football, is a full-contact team sport that uses an oval-shaped ball.  Only sideways or backwards passing is allowed. Rucking, mauls and scrums are words heard in rugby, but rarely anywhere else. According to USA Rugby, a successful rugby team “combines tackling, speed, strength, agility, passing, kicking, and driving for a multifaceted attack.”

“I think the reason why we went so far as such a new team in the tournament was because we all had a passion and drive to keep pushing forward,” Lancellotti said. “The whole point of CODP was development because we wanted to develop as a team and develop as people and players, so it was really exciting.”

The CODP, sponsored by the United States Olympic Committee, is designed to foster athletic development and take young athletes to an elite level.

Rugby has seen a steady increase in players and public interest over the last decade, according to USA Rugby.  The 2016 Olympics saw the return of rugby to the international competition after a 92 year hiatus.

Lancellotti picked up the sport in early 2015, just 18 months ago. 

“After my first practice, I knew I liked it and wanted to keep going with it and it totally took over my life,” Lancellotti said. “Originally, my friend’s dad wanted me to play when I was younger. As I got older, he pushed me more and more and I finally decided to try it out for fun to see if I would like it. I had watched a few games and found it interesting.”

She said her passion and talent for the sport were fostered by coaches Sharon Berger, Tom Feury and Ivano Mirandi.  The three provided her with the inspiration and knowledge to take her game up a notch, she said.

Lancellotti looks toward the future and knows that rugby will be a big part of it. She has set a goal of playing rugby at the Division I level in college. She said her parents have played a huge part in her development so far, and are helping her achieve her goal through the college application process.

“It has honestly been amazing to watch my daughter find a sport that she loves so much and that she puts her all into,” her mother Shannon Lancellotti said. “I never imagined that I would even allow her to play the sport but now I'll send her on a plane to go play in another state. It’s truly been a blessing to see her grow as a player and a person with this sport and it has truly humbled me.”

“I’m very proud of my daughter’s accomplishments in rugby,” her father Carmine Lancellotti said. “The sport was foreign to all of us when she began, and her progress is nothing short of miraculous. I’ve never seen her happier in playing a sport.”

Mia Lancellotti will play volleyball at ALJ this fall, and swim during the winter months. And, she said, she’ll be at the gym all the time, working to stay in shape for her future in rugby.

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