Rutgers women’s rugby club competes in national tournament
Two years ago, the Rutgers women’s rugby club was a team absent of a coach and with humble expectations.
This year, the club earned a spot at the Collegiate Rugby Championship, the premier college rugby competition in the United States, which was held in Philadelphia from June 4 to June 6. Over the course of the tournament, the group of Rutgers students faced formidable opposition – going head-to-head with well-funded varsity programs.
The team’s current fortunes are testaments to their evolution from a largely student-run club to a fully-fledged competitive outfit.
“(The team) had never been a top-25 team. They just kind of survived if you will,” said Ken Pape, who has coached the club for the past two years. “Over the last two years, we’ve been in the top five rankings twice.”
Despite its club-level designation, the team has all the attributes of a high-performance collegiate varsity program. Film sessions are staged once a week, team weaknesses are analyzed habitually and practice plans are composed week after week.
“We’ve instilled a lot of structure to our gameplay. The athletes are concentrating on their nutrition and their fitness levels,” Pape said. “They are really just following through and making sure to follow a high-performance pathway.”
Even with the amount of effort exerted each season, the group’s lack of funding and academic assistance impedes further growth, Pape said. Unlike the other teams participating in the weekend’s tournament, the Rutgers club did not stay in a hotel overnight and had to drive down to Philadelphia.
Travel expenses are not covered by the University, which offers the Division II team $2,500 in funding each year.
“We are getting better and better and we are participating in bigger and bigger things, but that $2,500 doesn’t really cover all of the tournaments (that) we do,” said Beatrice Trinidad, one of the 42 players on the team. “We had to pay out of our pockets for some things.”
Trinidad, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, believes the club will become even more competitive if they are upgraded to varsity level or at least to a division I team. The Rutgers athletic director told the group that the University was currently unable to finance the move, she said.
Without the priority class scheduling that University varsity athletes are granted, arranging practice sessions is often challenging and full team attendance is nearly impossible, Pape said.
“Half my team can’t make it on Thursday. The other half can’t make it on Friday,” he said.
The Rutgers club plays two variations of rugby during both academic semesters. In the fall, they play the common version of rugby – otherwise known as rugby union – and in the spring, the club plays rugby sevens, in which teams of seven players, instead of the usual 15, compete in shorter matches.
While already an established sport internationally, rugby has seen a surge in its popularity here in the United States in recent years. The sport will be part of the upcoming Olympics in Brazil for the first time since 1924.
Pape believes the sport is attracting an amount of interest similar to the “soccer boom” in the U.S. during the 1990s.
“Rugby is actually the fastest growing team sport in the United States. We have a lot of high school programs here in New Jersey,” he said.
As they look toward the fall season, the group, which Trinidad labeled a “family,” seeks to continue defying expectations. One way they hope to maintain their momentum is by recruiting new students.
Although she is aware of the stereotypes around rugby, Trinidad said the group is inclusive and welcomes any student who wishes to join the team.
“A lot of people are kind of intimated by rugby because there is obviously a certain image to [the sport],” she said. “But rugby is such a diverse sport. There are different body types, all different personalities…you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. As long as you can take a hit, you can play rugby."
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.