Women’s rugby players greet newcomers with enthusiasm.
The women’s rugby football club may not be physically bigger than other teams, but they want to prove they have the tactics, speed and numbers to beat anyone on the field this year.
When practice began on Aug. 29, coach Owen Jones told the new players, “It’s great you girls are out here. Look around, you’ve instantly just made 64 new friends.”
Jones, a former men’s rugby club player from 2007, expects the largest turnout of players he’s seen in his three years of coaching to help the squad compete this season.
“It’s pretty much once they’re out here, they’re hooked,” Jones said. “The sport is contagious. Once you play it, everyone just falls in love with it.”
For each game the club team plays, they compete in two 15-on-15 player games with “A” and “B” teams. The A team is for the starters and experienced players, while the B team is for improving players.
“In years past we were only getting 30 girls to a practice so we’d have girls that would not only play the whole 80 minutes of the first game, they may play the whole 80 minutes of the second game back-to-back,” Jones said. “So once you get into the season and you do that for five weeks, it kind of starts to wear on them.”
“So having the numbers is fantastic because it gives other players more time to rest in between games and it gives more people opportunities during the game,” Jones added.
The club team relies on recruiting new players during Welcome Week and at various other times during the season in order to field its teams.
“Girls are always talking about [rugby] because it’s such a different sport,” senior fly half Rachel Bandura said. “We’re just a real fun group of girls and we’re outgoing so we use our personalities [to recruit].”
But according to the club team’s history, the rugby team isn’t exactly unknown either. After winning the USA Rugby National College Championships for the Women’s Division II level in 2004, the club has returned to the national title game twice, finishing as finalists in 2005 and 2010. Earlier this year, the team competed at the 2011 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship on June 4 and made it to the semifinals.
“We don’t have a goal of making it to a championship game or the next level, we just kind of go with the flow,” Jones said. “If they pass and they can catch and they get better…as a coach that’s all I care about.”
“The main goal for me really is for them to enjoy it,” Jones added. “It’s a club sport here, so they’re all out here by their own free will. They chose to be out here. That’s why there are no cuts. We’re not going to turn anyone away.”
Senior flanker Karina Sundar said a main focus for the club team this year is to help develop the younger players.
“We have a full team with the veterans, but there’s always room for improvement with everyone,” Sundar said. “We can put some of the new players in because we do have a lot of athletic looking girls and some girls with potential it looks like so far.”
Another challenge that the club team faces is matching up with the bigger teams that they will often go up against.
“We have a very small team,” Sundar said. “But it usually works to our advantage because as other teams are bigger, we seem to be faster.”
Sundar added that players on the backline, are expected to contribute to the team’s speedy attack.
“We’re very strategic and we know how to move the defense and find the holes because we’re not going to physically out-bully anyone,” Bandura said.
Jones said that the club team will rally around Bandura, who plays a position similar to a quarterback in football. Sundar is expected to control the “mayhem” that ensues around the scrum and junior prop Kristin Shedaker is expected to create mayhem.
“[Shedaker] is just an absolute powerhouse beast,” Jones said. “She’ll just knock people flat on their back. If a girl runs the ball and she gets tackled by [Shedaker], you know the rest of the game that girl is running away from her. They don’t want any part of her.”
“As time progresses, I think we’ve got a better way of introducing [new players] to the sport and teaching them the sport,” Shedaker added. “Just this year, numbers alone are enough to excite us.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.