By Lila Epstein
When the F&M women’s rugby team returned for its Fall 2013 season, the team had 10 players on its roster, posing a threat to the team’s survival. In rugby, 15 players are on the field at a time, and, during the previous year, there were times the women’s team had to forfeit or scrimmage because there were not enough players for a full game.
“Our coach said [at the beginning of this year] if we didn’t find 20 new girls right off the bat he wasn’t going to coach,” said Colleen Gallagher ’16, co-captain of the women’s rugby team.
Gallagher and her teammates rose to the challenge and found over 20 rookies after developing and implementing a dedicated recruiting effort involving Facebook posts, dormstorming initiatives, and reaching out to friends.
According to Gallagher, she posted in the Class of 2017 facebook group something to the effect of, “Like kicking asses and not getting sued? Join the rugby team.” She believes the team was lucky with the level of interest shown by the women of the incoming class. The previous year the team only recruited three new players.
Rugby is different from other sports, such as soccer or basketball, in the sense that fewer people grow up playing it, creating a steep learning curve.
“Whenever I’m talking about rugby, people think I’m making up words,” Gallagher said.
The average incoming first-year might not have heard terms such as “try” or “scrum.” With the exceptional amount of new players the initial matches proved challenging.
Once the season got underway, however, the rookies learned quickly, and the impressive turnaround led the team to a winning season. The team’s final record was 8-3, with all three losses against Juniata College.
“The first game was terrible, but [the new team members] all picked everything up so quickly,” said Anna Folz ’15, F&M women’s rugby club president.
“I’m so proud of all of them,” Gallagher added. “They came such a long way from being the scared girls, being like ‘I don’t know how to do this’ to now, where they know what they are doing, are comfortable, and they know the game.”
Gallagher was drawn to the sport because of her Irish heritage and because it is a dynamic and energizing game.
“Rugby is the perfect marriage between soccer and football,” Gallagher said.
She attributes this to the combination of the contact of football and the fluidity of soccer, explaining that rugby does not require the constant topping that football does.
The players do have to take extra care to avoid injury because of the amount of contact involved. However, Folz emphasized that the team is taught various strategies to make the game as safe as possible.
“In rugby you are taught to tackle properly,” Folz said. “It is different than football tackling because the football players have all their pads. In rugby, usually if someone gets hurt it is because they were doing something wrong or someone else was doing something wrong. We do everything in way that is the least harmful.”
Gallagher added that the team has to be extra careful because concussions can occur, which can be extremely detrimental to a college student because it not only keeps her away from athletics but hinders her academics, as well. Gallagher acknowledges part of the challenge of playing rugby is being able to calm one’s fears of injury.
“The good players put it out of their mind, and you can tell when someone is thinking about it in the back of their mind because they are hesitant,” Gallagher said. “I think most of it is the way you are and your personality because some of us are natural-born killers. We have some girls who will just truck through everybody and you are like, ‘How did they do that?’ You just have to do your best to forget it, but it’s a lot easier for some people than it is for others.”
However, Gallagher and Folz feel the most unique aspect of the sport is the sense of camaraderie with other rugby players, including those on the opposing team.
“It’s a very physically aggressive game, but it is not supposed to be an emotionally aggressive game,” Gallagher said. “You get out on the field, and you kick the shit out of people, but you don’t say anything mean, and the ref is always referred to as sir. When you get off the field, everyone is friends again.”
Co-captain Jemma Barbarise ’15 echoed Gallagher’s sentiment.
“When you find someone that plays rugby, it’s an automatic bond between the two of you,” Barbarise said. “It’s an experience that only people who play can value and understand. It’s like a sick extended family that beats each other up and then embraces each other when the game is over.”
Folz explained how sometimes the teams also participate in “dirty socials,” when, after a match, both teams will socialize while remaining in their muddy and sweaty uniforms and barbecue and spend time together. The F&M team also knows, songs that are traditional to the sport that all the other teams know as well. The team’s conference has other unique traditions, including prom dress matches or tournaments.
“You go to [the Salvation Army], and you buy old prom dresses, usually the uglier the better—shoulder pads are always a great thing—and then you cut them up so you can run around,” Gallagher said. “It’s hilarious to watch a bunch of people in 80s prom dresses fight over a ball.”
According to Folz, the team also participates in tournaments that support different causes and charities, including the coalition Keep the Violence off the Field, which works towards the prevention of violence against women.
The team’s leadership consists of a club president and two captains. The club president does more work off of the field while the captains do more on the field. Folz however, acknowledged that, in reality, the three of them work together.
The team receives funding from the school for buses to travel to games close by, but they have not yet received enough to go on overnight trips to tournaments that are far away. The team members also pay dues to purchase their mouthguards, uniform shorts, and for social dues.
The team practices throughout the week and additionally lifts three times a week: once as a whole team and twice in smaller groups called “point pods.” They practice at the same time as the men’s rugby team, giving them the opportunity to sometimes collaborate or scrimmage.
According to Gallagher, the team has a close relationship with the men’s team, and they often socialize, which is consistent with the camaraderie felt among all rugby players. The team will continue to practice throughout the year and will play a shorter season in the Spring, although the fall season is more intense.
“Spring is more of a tournament season rather than a competitive season, so I’m looking forward to conditioning with the team and getting everyone in top shape,” Barbarise said.
Senior Lila Epstein is the Senior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.