YAKIMA, Wash. -- When Megan Bonny attended La Salle High School, she was a three-sport athlete who welcomed the diversity each season offered. Soccer for physicality, basketball for agility, track relays for speed and teamwork through it all.
Little did she know it then, but Bonny was essentially in training for a sport she knew nothing about and a future she never imagined.
This summer, after graduating from Washington State University and helping the Cougars win two collegiate rugby titles, Bonny has made the USA National women’s rugby team and played in three international matches with more on the way in the coming weeks.
The 23-year-old Bonny is in Colorado preparing for the Nations Cup, which starts with the USA Women’s Eagles team playing South Africa, Canada and England and concludes with the finals on Aug. 10. While one of the youngest players on the team, her goal is to be selected for next year’s USA National squad that will compete in the World Cup in France. And beyond that, ultimately, is 2016 and the Olympics in Rio Janeiro.
“Making the cut was very exciting, and at first it was a little overwhelming,” Bonny said. “It’s a faster, more physical game than I was used to in college and it’s very competitive. But once I got through my first match (against France last month) and got used to the pace, I realized it’s still just rugby. It’s the game I’ve come to love.”
All of this thanks to walking by the right table and the right time when she showed up in Pullman five years ago.
“My sister Alexis and I both did a lot of sports in high school so we were looking for something to do. We just happened to walk by a table for a rugby club, and like most people I had never heard of it,” she explained. “We both liked the idea of a contact sport with a lot of strategy. It sounded fun, fast-paced and exciting, so even though we were completely new to it we dove right in.”
With her three-sport background and zeal for aggressive play, Bonny found she possessed exactly the qualities required to be a high-level rugby player. And she was a timely addition to a club program on the rise.
Competing in Division II of collegiate rugby, Washington State placed third at nationals during Bonny’s first year and the power streak was on. The Cougars captured the national title the following season in 2010 and repeated the feat two months ago. With Bonny as team captain in her final season, the team completely overwhelmed the national field last spring, winning the title match 60-5.
Bonny graduated with a degree in kinesiology with a career in physical therapy on the horizon, but rugby was by no means out of her system. She and WSU teammate Anne Peterson joined many other collegiate players — Penn State was the Div. I national champion — at tryout camps in May and they both made the cut for the USA Women’s Eagles squad, which took 30 players into a three-match series against France in June.
“I played in all three and started the last one. It was such a great experience and got me even more excited about competing at this level,” Bonny said. “I came away with confidence in my strengths and knowing areas I had to work on.”
Bonny is training as an inside and outside center — positions numbered 12 and 13 in rugby’s 15-player formations — where her playmaking abilities have room to maneuver.
“I’m focusing on passing and getting the ball out wide,” she explained. “I enjoy having the space to be creative when attacking, reading what other players are doing and taking advantage of gaps in the defense. Those are my strengths.”
But now the stakes go up.
To assess the mix of veteran and new talent and finalize a roster for next year’s World Cup, coaches are using the international matches this summer to make those decisions. In addition to the USA Eagles squad, which employs the classic full-contact rugby style with regulation-length matches and 15 players on the field, there is also a USA Sevens team, which competes in shorter, quicker matches that use more running and fewer scrums. Five players from the Sevens have been added to the Eagles’ roster for the Nations Cup, which starts July 30 against South Africa.
“I’m still young and learning, and I’m taking a lot in,” Bonny said. “A lot of the women are older and a little bigger than I am, and that’s the challenge — learning more, getting more experience and using my strengths to improve. The Nations Cup will be very competitive and very challenging for us younger players but it’s great experience. This is the time to show what you can do.”
Lining up as an inside or outside center requires a diverse set of skills and Bonny’s been working on that for years. Her senior year at La Salle is testament to that — state runner-up soccer season, state championship basketball season and state titles in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays with her two sisters, Alexis and Savannah.
“It feels like I’ve been building toward this sport before I ever knew about it,” she said. “I’ve grown to have a real passion for the game, and my ultimate goal is to make the team for next year’s World Cup. It’s been amazing to even have the chance.”