By Carley Crain
Taking each hit and tackle, the Springfield College club women’s rugby team have pounded their way through each challenge that comes their way. With a growing squad, a new head coach and an improved mindset, this team is ready for an unforgettable year.
A sport typically known for being very physically demanding, rugby is just as much a mental game. This season, the Pride has worked on improving their overall mindset, primarily focusing on being positive and dedicated. This year’s squad is relatively young, with a strong presence of underclassmen and exemplary leadership from the upperclassmen. The team also has a new coach, who has helped lift team spirits. Despite ongoing challenges, like field time, funding and scheduling, the Pride have proven how tough they are in times of hardship.
“This season, we have 24 teammates. We have girls from every grade level. The team is very young, with sophomores composing over half of the team,” team captain Mackenzie Miller said. “Anyone can join rugby at any time, no matter what grade level. We have girls join as first years all the way up to seniors. You don’t need rugby experience to join.”
Being a club sports team on any college campus involves difficulties. The women’s rugby team, especially this year, have struggled with field time due to the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus that has been a threat to the Springfield community. Campus rules have set parameters and curfews for all athletic teams due to the ongoing concerns with the virus. These new rules have limited practice time for the Pride, but the women’s rugby team is not letting this get in the way of their season.
To get practice time in, the women travel to Smith College and use their facilities. Since the team’s budget is not supported by the school, women on the team have to use their own cars and gas money to travel for practice.
Injuries have also been an issue for the team this fall, as team captain Rachel Lavalley tore her ACL in the first game of the year.
Unlike NCAA Div. III teams on campus, the women’s rugby team gets little to no funding from Springfield. This definitely poses a challenge, but the women have worked hard to set up their own fundraisers to raise money. For Halloween this year, the women are selling goodie bags in the Campus Union from Oct. 21 to the 25th. All proceeds from this fundraiser will help the team travel to games and tournaments.
Resilient and determined, the women of the club rugby team this fall are eager to learn more about the sport.. Since rugby is not offered at most traditional high schools, many athletes on the team are still learning the in’s and out’s. Many of the women have different backgrounds in a wide variety of sports, bringing uniqueness and athleticism to the team.
Team dynamic and chemistry has tremendously improved this season from last year. This summer, Miller and Lavalley worked rigorously on recruiting girls and connecting with all members of the team. Both captains were also extremely passionate about being able to receive treatment from the schools athletic trainers as well as working with a strength and conditioning coach. Patience and persistence helped the girls get weekly lift times as well as being assigned an athletic trainer, just like varsity sports teams on campus. A new head coach has also helped motivate the team. Chris St. Onge joined the Springfield squad last season, and has guided the team into becoming a more positive and determined set of women both on and off the field.
“Second half of last year we got a new coach and his name is Chris. He is probably the best thing that has happened to the program,” team captain Rachel Lavalley said. “He came and he knows about rugby. He has been coaching forever and used to be in charge of the refs. He is really into the rugby community everywhere.”
The women’s rugby team competes in the Div. II New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference (NEWCRC), featuring some New England Womens and Mens Athlete Conference (NEWMAC) teams, like Smith, Coast Guard and Mount Holyoke. With the fall season winding down, the women are looking forward for the spring rugby season, as they are planning to compete in a variety of different tournaments as well as competing in non-conference games.
“Our goal as a team this year is to continue to grow and improve. Throughout the season, our skills are constantly improving which can be seen on the pitch. Rugby is a physically and mentally demanding sport, “ Miller said. “Each practice and lift allows for forward progress in both areas. As a captain, my personal goals for the team are to expand our skills and knowledge of the game while still having fun.”
Overcoming adversity and attacking each challenge sums up the strong women representing Springfield on the rugby field.
“Everyone is taking this year very seriously and everyone wants to be good,” Lavalley said. “The dedication is completely flipped from last year.”
Photo courtesy of Beth Ann Mikos