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Wearing the red, white and blue

Sports and Katy Hertel go together like Hastings and the Mississippi River. There's no way to picture one without the other.

So, it should come as no surprise that Hertel, a 1997 graduate of Hastings High School, is still involved. And for anyone who followed her career here, or her basketball career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, it should come as no surprise that she is successful.

But what may be surprising is her new sport. Rugby.

The former standout soccer player and basketball player is now a member of the USA Rugby Women's National Team. She has played in one overseas match, competing for team USA at the Nation's Cup in England last fall. Hertel hopes to land a coveted spot on Team USA for the 2010 World Cup in England.

That experience was one of her finest as an athlete, she said.

"I gotta tell you, it's the coolest thing in the world to be standing on a green field in another country with your arms around your teammates while they play the 'Star Spangled Banner,'" she said. "I felt like a little kid inside. It was an adrenaline rush like I've never had before.

"It was definitely a life accomplishment to be able to wear red, white and blue."

Hertel didn't exactly jump from college sports straight into rugby. She said she flirted with adventure racing, including a 24-hour race in the fall of 2004. But while in New Zealand working as an outdoor instructor, she was exposed to rugby.

When she returned to Minnesota, she learned she could play rugby here, and quickly got involved with the Minnesota Valkyries. Later, she got involved with a regional all-star team, the Midwest Thunderbirds.

Her time spent as a basketball point guard serves her well in rugby, as she plays the rugby version of point guard, the scrum half.

"(Rugby) combines a lot of the sports I've done before, and it is intensified with the physicality," she said. "There's a lot of strategy, but there are also a lot of physical demands."

Hertel also enjoys the rugby culture.

"The people and the culture is a big part of it," she said. "It's really a grass roots effort. It's really a unique and amazing group of people."

Outdoor practices for the Valkyries begin soon, and Hertel will be busy trying to prove herself this summer and fall. Included in all her plans will hopefully be a test match in June against a Canadian team, and she's hoping to earn a Nation's Cup roster spot again this year. The tournament this time around will be in Toronto. Ultimately, she'd love a spot on the 2010 World Cup roster.

Hertel, who lives in Minneapolis, has put her career on hold while she competes and trains for rugby. She graduated from Duluth with a degree in biochemistry, and said she had to give up some good positions because of all her travel, but she has a job in accounts receivable and her employer is flexible enough to let her travel.

"I'm hoping to get back to school when I'm done with my rugby career," she said. "I don't know when that's going to be."

Hertel is encouraged by the fact that Hastings has its own girls rugby team. It is coached by Tonnie Wulff, who played with Hertel on a midwest all-star team, so the two know each other well.

Hertel's mother, Jan, teaches at Hastings Middle School. She was able to accompany her daughter on the trip to England last fall and was able to see her play in a match.

Hertel still gets to Hastings often, and spends time working with current Hastings athletes in the Raiders Express training program.

"Not a milestone passes that I don't take time to appreciate where I came from and the people who supported and inspired me to achieve," Hertel said. "I worked 10 years with the local Hastings Basketball Boosters summer camps, and have contributed 11 summers to the Raider Express training program. It has always been and still remains important to me to give back the opportunities that were given to me."