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Ali Taylor makes no bones about it — she covets a well-muscled athlete.

But the newly-named coach of the Long Beach State University women’s rugby team is adamant about taking all comers; it’s one of the beauties of the sport that she’s come to love.

“If the girl has big quads and shoulders, I’ll get a little excited about that,” she said. “But if they are coming in lean and with no muscles, we can work with that.”

“The thing with rugby is there is a position for every single body type,” she said. “We don’t discriminate against anything.”

Trust her.

As a high school senior at Ursuline 14 years ago, curiosity inspired Taylor, a golfer for the Bears, to walk into a practice of the Elsie Allen rugby squad never having played the game and weighing no more than “a buck 20.”

“They were like ‘OK, tackle this girl,’” Taylor, 32, remembered.

She did — with zeal.

“They were like ‘Oh my gosh you were meant for this game,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, done deal.’”

It was a bit of a stretch Taylor, but then again, not really. She was always drawn to physical games and contests of derring-do around the neighborhood.

Yeah Taylor still golfs, but she gave her heart to rugby long ago.

“I just fell in love with the game,” she said.

Success has a way of sparking those passions. The Elsie team went all the way that year.

“We were really good and we won the state championship,” she said.

The following year she walked on with the Chico State Wildcats as a freshman with a rare year of competitive experience and was immediately thrown to the wolves.

“I was definitely walking onto a very skilled team,” she said. “They just threw me in the mix right away.”

For the Wildcats, Taylor played hooker. I needed a little help with understanding this, so looked it up. I found the following: “Muscular is good. Toughness is good. Strength is good.”

And there was this aside: “It’s also good if you have a short and/or powerful neck.”

You’ve got to love rugby.

Taylor defined her role like this: “You have to be really aggressive and like contact. You are going head to head with the strongest and biggest girls on the field.”

It was a far cry from her golf days, but Taylor loved every minute of it. And it gave her an instant community at Chico.

“My rugby sisters are my best friends to this day,” she said. “Those girls are everything to me.”

That’s what Taylor dreams of creating at Long Beach, a Division II club program that will play the likes of USC, UC Irvine and CSU Northridge.

But building family ain’t easy. Especially when the 49ers return only 10 players.

Even that brings out a positive response from Taylor: She likes raw. She doesn’t want to have to undo learned mistakes. She’ll take an enthusiastic newbie over a stubborn veteran any day.

And potential players beware: Taylor is big on conditioning. She is, after all, a strength and conditioning coach by trade.

“Rugby is more fun when you are fit,” she said. And one needn’t have a rugby or even athletic background to get fit.

“You might not be able to out-pass someone but you can always out run someone,” she said.

Taylor called the building process a positive, a chance to build the program how she wants it run and have the athletes play the way she wants them to play.

She’s not far enough away from her start in the sport to have forgotten the learning process.

And she’s been tasked with building a program before.

Three years ago she was hired to take on the Mira Costa High boys team in Manhattan Beach. The transition had the bumps one might expect with a woman coaching teenaged boys.

“There was some apprehension for sure,” she said. “There was definitely a lot of attitude, like ‘Who is this girl? Why does she think she can tell us what to do?’”

Answer: She’ll show you why.

“Not to toot my own horn but I was kicking ass in the drills,” she said. “That kind of earned their respect, showing them more than telling them.”

After the wins started piling up, the boys of Mira Costa couldn’t wait to play for Coach Ali. Last year they won the southern California rugby championship.

“They have seen the success that we have had,” she said.

“They want to be part of that.”

Inspired, she launched the Mira Costa girls team.

“A lot of my girls have never played a sport before,” she said.

So she pushes fun and family and the sweaty gross bonds of the scrum.

“With rugby you have to play as a team,” she said.

“It becomes your family really quick.”

With three teams under her tutelage going forward, Taylor has perhaps the fastest growing rugby family around.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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