With time winding down, the Springfield College women’s rugby team was desperately clinging to a two-point lead over defending D-III Cup Champion Smith College, who was threatening to score.
Despite a suffocating Pride defense, the Pioneers finally broke through for a try, effectively deflating the Pride and handing them their first loss of the season. The play was ruled a turnover due to a forward pass, however, negating the points and sending the Pride off with a 22-20 win and a 2-0 start to their season.
“Our coach didn’t even know we won for 30 seconds afterwards. It was awesome. It was one of the best feelings ever,” Becca D’Andrea, a senior who plays 8-man, said. “I’ve never seen or felt a group of people being so determined.”
SC women’s rugby, a club sport, is still a fledgling compared to its much longer-tenured varsity counterparts. Despite its club status, the team has experienced a recent influx of participants over the past several years. The women’s team currently has 30 members on its roster, which has played a big role in sparking the program’s success.
“It’s amazing to see what we have now. We have 30 girls. There are girls that don’t get in the game because you can only make seven subs per game,” D’Andrea said. “When I first started playing, we’d get 11 girls or we’d get eight girls [who] would show up to practice, and then we’d get hopefully 15 for a game.”
The women’s rugby team has undergone a huge transformation in the three years that D’Andrea has been playing. The senior experienced rugby for the first time her sophomore year, when she decided to give the sport a shot. Like many of her teammates, D’Andrea had no intention on playing a sport she had never really heard of when she came to SC. Instead, she stumbled upon it after her initial plans fell through.
“I came here as a freshman and I wanted to play soccer, but then I had an injury that didn’t let me play,” D’Andrea said. “So I did nothing my freshman year, and I was absolutely miserable.”
After giving crew a chance and not finding it to be a good fit, D’Andrea discovered rugby.
“I got on the rugby field, and it was awesome. It’s the best group of girls. It’s just a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie. It was a perfect fit,” she said.
Similarly, Alex Ferreira, a junior who plays lock, did not expect to be playing the sport she now loves upon enrolling at SC.
Ferreira was a lacrosse player in high school, but made up her mind that she did not want to play a varsity sport at the collegiate level. When a member of the women’s rugby team approached her during her sophomore year about joining the club sport, however, she saw an opportunity to get involved.
“The minute I started playing, everyone was so welcoming. We all get along great. We hang out together all the time,” Ferreira said. “On the field we do so well together I think because we’re so close off the field that we have each other’s backs all the time no matter what.”
That family atmosphere has enabled some of their on-field success. The team is currently 2-0 in their first year in a more competitive conference, the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference (NEWCRC), with three regular season games remaining. The Pride started off their season on Sept. 22 by thrashing Mount Holyoke on the road 66-0. They then squeaked out their 22-20 victory in a rain-filled thriller against Smith College.
The women’s team is not comprised of the biggest group of girls in stature, but what they may lack overall in physical size, they make up for in sheer determination.
“Looking at our team compared to other teams, we’re a lot smaller,” Ferreira said. “Then we go up against girls twice our sizes and we’re really successful. Size is nothing to us.”
Kristen Brosius, the team’s third-year coach, has learned to enhance the team’s strengths to give them an edge in the 80-minute marathons.
“Our advantage has always been our speed and our conditioning. We have a lot of stamina and endurance, and that’s huge in rugby,” Brosius said.
Brosius, who like many of her players did not come from a rugby background, kept the program afloat three years ago when she temporarily assumed the vacant coaching position to prevent the club from folding.
“I have never played rugby. I had heard that they did not have a coach, and that they were going to lose the program if they didn’t have a coach going into their spring season three years ago. So I offered to temporarily jump in and help in any way that I could,” Brosius said. “Then it turned into me going to a USA Rugby Coaching clinic and watching a lot of video and reading a lot of books, and here I am, still standing as their head coach.”
Just like her players, Brosius has fallen in love with the sport that she now calls her own. She has high hopes for this year’s team, who she called “the most passionate group of girls I’ve had in the last three years.”
Passion is a necessary part of the team’s make-up, because without it, players wouldn’t last very long. Being a club sport, the team knows that it gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
“To be so dedicated to a club sport, knowing that you’re not a varsity sport, we get last pick for field and practice time, we’re kind of at the bottom of the barrel, but we all take it so seriously that I think other people are really drawn to that,” Ferreira said.
The team practices on Amos Alonzo Stagg Field from 8-10 p.m. or as early as 6 a.m. because those are the only time slots available for them. Undeterred, they have two mandatory practices, one captain’s practice, a mandatory conditioning and agility practice and at least two lifts a week on their own time. Tack on a match each weekend, and the team is one of the most dedicated club sports on campus.
“You talk about commitment and dedication, these are girls that are staying up until 10:30 at night practicing and then getting up at six in the morning to have conditioning practice,” Brosius said.
Rugby is not a sport for the weak of heart, either. Although it is not all about contact, the fact of the matter is that at its core, rugby is a contact sport. For the members of the women’s rugby team, that’s perfectly fine by them.
“Usually after a game it’s like, ‘Yo, check this bruise out! Look at what I have!’ It’s kind of like your warrior marks just to show that you pushed through,” Ferreira said. “The next day you’re completely sore, covered in bruises, cuts, turf burn…but in the moment, it’s awesome. You don’t feel any of that. You just have so much power.”
With their recent additions to the family, the women’s rugby team is poised to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with in the NEWCRC. With two wins in two games, they are no longer the underdogs of the conference.
“Now that we’ve had two games under our belts, they know how good they can be, and I think that is motivating them,” Brosius said.
The team will continue its season against Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Sunday at noon on the Irv Schmidt fields, where the Pride will look to continue their winning ways and keep racking up the bruises.