Utah Warriors and MLR History
The Utah Warriors were established with the notion that Utah’s community and its families deserved a professional sports team founded and operated upon the core values that the sport of rugby delivers, tradition and respect.
After two years of planning from 2015 to 2017, the Utah Warriors, then known as Rugby Utah, were part of a group of four teams that helped create the initial nucleus of what would eventually become Major League Rugby. The teams included the Glendale Raptors (now Colorado Raptors), the Houston Strikers (now Houston Sabercats) and the Austin Huns (now Austin Herd), all partnering to create the initial league structure and plan.
Kimball Kjar, Utah Warriors current CEO/GM, helped pave the way for the creation of the MLR, along with Ken Rivera and former Real Salt Lake CEO Dean Howes. The three were a part of the first group who met in Houston in September of 2016 to form a new professional rugby league. At that meeting, Dean Howes, who was consulting Rugby Utah and was working with Kimball Kjar, was asked to lead as the new Commissioner of this league.
From that time forward, using the same organizational structure as Major League Soccer, also known as a “single entity” league, the original four teams proceeded to share the vision and plans of what would soon become Major League Rugby. These discussions brought in numerous other ownership groups, eventually leading to the legal formation of Major League Rugby in October of 2017. The original founding seven teams were Seattle, San Diego, Utah, Glendale, Austin, Houston and New Orleans.
With the growth and excitement of the MLR, new and interested parties joined the league; New York and Toronto joined in early 2018 and competed in 2019, while Atlanta, Washington DC and New England followed suit in late 2018 with plans to join the competition in 2020. Other members joined the MLR officially with intentions to compete in 2021 in the form of Dallas and Los Angeles, and other notable teams have high interest in joining the league in 2022 and beyond.
The unprecedented growth in just four short years from seven teams to thirteen is something no other professional sports league has seen in North America.
In 2018, the Utah Warriors launched with new head coach Alf Daniels leading the helm, assisted by Rob Randell and Mark Numbers. The Warriors finished the season with a 3-8 record but made the playoffs, only losing to the Glendale Raptors in the 2018 MLR semifinal playoff.
The Warriors were a strong attacking team in 2018, with MLR leading try-scorer Tonata Lauti and 2018 captain Paul Lasike both receiving All-MLR team honors. 2019’s version of the Warriors was less successful with a 2-12-2 record and an 8th place finish ahead of Austin.
With some coaching changes, including hiring Australian Wallaby legend Chris Latham, and adjustments to player personnel, the Utah Warriors were 3-2 in the 2020 season. Their last game, before the season was ended early due to COVID-19, was against the two-time MLR-defending champion, the Seattle Seawolves. The Warriors had a 10th-minute stoppage-time victory over the Seawolves in Seattle.
“The new coaching staff had this Warriors team pointed in the right direction,” said Kimball Kjar. “We were starting to come on strong as the 2020 season was progressing, but we were cut short due to COVID-19. I would have loved to see where this team would have ended up by the close of the regular season.”
Kjar’s comments speak to not only Latham’s energy and coaching ability but to the support staff working with Latham, which Kjar says is one of the strongest groups in the MLR.
Shawn Pittman: Assistant Coach, also the current USA Eagles National Team Assistant Coach
Shaun Davies: Assistant Coach, a former USA Eagle
Brandon Sparks: Director of Rugby Operations, one of the leading pathway experts in America
Matthew Maddison: Strength and Conditioning Coach, worked with the US Ski and Snowboard Association as well as personally made multiple appearances for the British Judo team
Early investors Wade Sherman and Luke Kjar were critical to the foundational success and planning of the Utah Warriors, and they remain committed to the team’s long-term success. With the added investment partnership of family members from Midwest Sports Marketing, a group who are part owners in the Minnesota United FC of Major League Soccer, joining Wade, Luke and Kimball in the Warriors ownership group, the Warriors organization now have additional support and resources to help the organization deliver on their stated goals: building America’s epicenter of North American rugby by adhering to and living the core values of “Community. Family. Tradition. Respect.”
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