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Kiana Saluni makes U20 USA Rugby national team

St. Helens grad tapped after just one game
by: John Brewington Kiana Saluni was named to the national USA Rugby U20 team.

Kiana Saluni was introduced to rugby by her boyfriend just a year or so ago, and now she's been selected for the U20 USA Rugby national team.

Saluni, 19, attends Oregon State University. She joined the rugby team, a club sport last fall, and was immediately recognized for her athletic ability. A 2009 St. Helens High graduate, she excelled at basketball and volleyball.

Her boyfriend, Mitch Fargher-also a St. Helens grad-will be a senior this year. He's been a mainstay of the Oregon State men's team.

It didn't take Saluni long to get noticed in rugby. Just one game, actually. National forwards coach Danielle Miller was impressed enough while scouting that first game to invite her to tryouts for the U20 national team in Florida. National Head Coach Bryn Chiver from Wales, U.K., brought her to Pittsburg in June for the second round of tryouts and placed her on the team.

Saluni headed off to Santa Barbara, Calif., this last Monday to participate in the Nations Cup. The team plays South Africa (July 14), England (July 17), Canada (July 20), and on July 23 they could play for the championship.

Saluni said the skills she learned in basketball have helped her with things like ball handling, but she still has a lot to learn about the nuances of rugby.

'It's definitely controlled chaos,' she said. 'The team comes from all over the country and we don't practice together ever. We have to pretty much feel each other out in the first two days we are there.'

She has ambitions to excel at rugby. She'd like to advance to the next level to play for the Grizzlies, and a year from then play for the adult Eagles team.

Saluni attended Linn-Benton College her first year out of high school and then transferred to Oregon State. She said the team had an up and down season, losing their only league match to Oregon. She has three years of eligibility left and plans to play all three years. Last season the team made road trips to Chico State and a Stanford Invitational, both in California.

Saluni is Tongan, and her dad and uncle both played rugby when younger. She's 5-11, muscular and obviously in good shape. She's aware of the dangers rugby can present-her boyfriend was in for his third knee surgery last week.

Pursuing a degree in natural resources, she is thinking about becoming a forest ranger. She said she had planned to work this summer, but had been unable to find a job.

'Rugby will remain my focus right now,' she said.