Taua Key didn’t take up rugby until her freshman year of high school. She had no idea then where it would take her.

Key, a senior at Fort Osage High School, recently signed to play rugby at Lindenwood University. And going with her will be Annie Nauer, a longtime friend and teammate.

“I think it was like a starstruck moment for me because I never thought that I’d be playing rugby in college, or a sport in college at all,” Key said. “It was pretty exciting for me and my family. And for one of my really close friends because we’re both going to play rugby at college together.”

Key also played basketball at Fort Osage, and her first rugby experience came playing for a club team at the school. She had been around rugby before, but the game was still rather new to her.

“I knew what rugby was, I just never knew how to play it,” Key said. “There was a club team that they were putting together and one of my friends was like, ‘Hey we should go join.’”

Nauer, a William Chrisman senior, started playing as a sophomore, taking up a game her father has always played. Eventually, the two became teammates on the Independence Lady Warriors club team.

Key said playing for those teams, and one organized by her uncle, gave her an appreciation for the teamwork and camaraderie the game generates.

“I liked the bonding of the team and how well we played together, the chemistry on the team,” Key said. “And also the big support from our coaches and the sacrifices that they make to even be able to come to practice because they all have busy schedules with their jobs and their kids. That’s what made it more fun for me.”

On the field, Key and Nauer both play as fly halfbacks. When the ball pops out of the scrum – after players from both teams push and shove for control of the ball – they like to grab it and decide how their team will move down field. Forward passes aren’t allowed – the ball can only be run forward, thrown backwards or laterally.

The goal is to get the ball across the goal line for a try, which is worth five points. A team can also score on a conversion kick (two points), a penalty kick (three points) or a dropped goal – dropping the ball on the ground and kicking it between the goal posts (three points).

“When I first started out it was pretty hard for me,” Key said. “Basketball is pretty physical, but rugby was more physical than I thought. It just took a lot of training and eventually it ended up being really fun to tackle and stuff.”

Key and Nauer will tackle a major challenge at Lindenwood. The St. Charles school is a women’s rugby powerhouse, having won USA Rugby Collegiate Sevens national championships in 2017 and 2018 and the DI Elite 15s title in 2018. The Lions were off to a 12-3 start this year before the COVID-19 pandemic ended their season.

“I’m really excited,” Nauer said. “I think it will be a good experience for me.”

“You get to learn from players that have more experience, especially from three national championships,” Key said. “It’s really exciting to be part of the team.”

Billy Nicholas, Lindenwood women’s rugby head coach, believes Key can meet that challenge.

“We are excited to have Taua join us this fall,” Nicholas said. “We had the chance as a coaching staff to view highlight footage Taua sent over and it was clear she has a ton of potential at the collegiate level. Taua has a good understanding of the game and, after speaking with her, is very excited to continue to grow as a player and person at the next level.”