A former Saint Ignatius rugby captain is headed to New Zealand.
Nick Zolikoff '18 has been invited to train among the world's best this summer in one of the world's top rugby hubs.
Zolikoff announced the news this week via a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the 6-week trip.
"It has always been my dream to play rugby with the best in the world and to learn the way they play the sport," Zolikoff said. "The opportunity to travel to New Zealand and train with the Crusaders would give me that chance. I would have so much to learn as a rugby player by attending this academy."
Indeed, the academy offers an incredible opportunity for Zolikoff. The summer program will be hosted by the Canterbury Crusaders, a professional men's rugby team based in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Crusaders are defending champions of the Super Rugby competition, which features 15 international teams.
The program is an 8-week long high-performance camp, starting on June 3. Zolikoff will be staying for 6 weeks, participating in daily training sessions at the Crusader facilities and playing games with an area club team on Saturdays.
During his stay, Zolikoff will be immersed in New Zealand culture. He will stay with a local family for the duration of his stay. In addition to attending a pair of Crusader games, Zolikoff will have the opportunity to take in the many sights that the beautiful country has to offer.
"This trip would be so special to me not only as a rugby player but also as a person. Experiencing the New Zealand culture, forming friendships and seeing the country would leave me enriched in every way," Zolikoff said. "I would be extremely grateful for the opportunity to take part in this program, and proud to represent Saint Ignatius, Ohio State and most importantly the United States overseas."
Zolikoff has represented his schools and his country well in the first five years of his career. Picking up the sport as a freshman at Saint Ignatius, Zolikoff quickly developed into a star player. Zolikoff made the team early in his career and matured into a critical player for the Wildcats in his final two seasons. Zolikoff guided the Rugby Cats to a RugbyOhio Championship as a junior in 2017 and then again as a senior captain in 2018.
Along the way, Zolikoff also traveled with the team to France in 2017 and to South Africa in 2018, providing smart leadership and an unmatched passion for the game.
"Zolly's most significant impact was his work rate. He was everywhere on the field," said Rugby Cats head coach Dan Arbeznik '00. "I would compare him to a greyhound. He would just go and go and go until his heart would burst. It didn't take long for people on opposition sides to figure out that he was the best player on the pitch. It wasn't necessarily because of skills, it was because of heart. He had a way of being able to impact the game at a level that the other 29 guys out there couldn't do.
"He's extremely focused, dedicated, and determined. Zolly always had a vision of what his team should be doing, and he attacked it with every ounce in his body."
Zolikoff has continued to hone his skills and show off his intensity on the pitch this season at The Ohio State University.
Zolikoff quickly earned a starting spot at flanker for Ohio State rugby this past fall. Zolikoff walked away from his freshman season thrilled at the experience, which included a trip to the Big Ten Rugby Conference Championship game.
Arbeznik is not surprised at Zolikoff's success.
"We're very proud of Zolly for everything that he's done. He brought our program to a level we hadn't been to before," Arbeznik said. "I'm very proud that he started at Ohio State as a freshman and that he's pursuing a level of rugby that no one in our program has ever gone to before."
To help Zolly with trip expenses, click here for his GoFundMe page.
Good luck in New Zealand, Zolly!