From friends to the field

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September 15, 2009

1:47 AM

While field hockey players compete for ball possession in a civilized fashion and cross country runners coast by practice fields, the women’s rugby team practices by tumbling over one another in what appears to be a giant wrestling match.

The reason for this apparent wrestling match is team building, according to Elizabeth Forro ’11. This is a practice session for the women’s rugby club, and while to the untrained eye it merely looks like club members are taking spill after spill, they are in fact playing touch rugby. Falls usually occur as the players trip over each other.

“People think everyone gets injured. That’s not true. We have fewer injuries than you’d think,” Sarah Dean ’11 said. “That’s why we don’t have to wear pads.”

The lack of protection does not seem to deter new members. The main draw of the sport is that the rugby club teams do not feel like typical sports teams. There are no official try-outs; anyone is welcome to join, whatever their skill level and the team fosters an especially close bond.

“This Thursday night we have a social and we are together basically all day Saturday because we have games,” Forro said. “The Women’s rugby team in particular has a closeness that is not often seen. They give each other very distinctive nick-names: Diesel, Beans and Steiner are just a few of them. Outside of rugby, teammates often eat together and go to campus events together. Most of their social activities also involve watching football.”

In fact, Dean said it feels more like a club than a sport in many ways. Outside of rugby, teammates often eat together and go to campus events together.

“There is a very close feeling amongst players,” James McCulla ’10, the men’s rugby captain said. “It’s almost like a fraternity feeling.”

The Ed and Sandy Lee Tournament marks the end of the semester for the rugby team. The two-day tournament that determines whether the Women’s team can go on to play in the Mid Atlantic Rugby Football Union tournament in the spring. While the tournament itself is a bonding experience, there are other opportunities that weekend.

“After the tournament, there’s a themed-party, and we all go to target together and get outfits, it’s ridiculous, and so fun,” Forro said.

The closeness of both teams is evident just by watching them practice. The men’s team is so intensely involved in their scrimmages that they do not want to stop and reset a play. While discussing strategy, the players express their desire to get the talking over quickly so they can keep playing. When McCulla finally gives the instruction to play on, the team responds enthusiastically, screaming, “Maul.”

The women’s team has its own personality: everyone keeps laughing, even when they are getting bowled over by their teammates.

“We get really close,” Forro said. “Especially with rookies, because it’s hard to get new people interested, and then they’re excited, and we’re excited. It’s nice.”

A new addition to the women’s team this year is Coach Chris Ball. A professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, Ball is also an experienced rugby player who had played for a club in his native Australia for over ten years. While he has only been with the women’s team for a few weeks, he is already impressed.

“They’ve already improved just from where they were,” Ball said. “They’re all very dedicated, and they’re working so hard. It’s a complex game. People don’t appreciate that … [these players] have courage.”

Ball, like his players, is not scared to get his hands dirty. He jumps in to adjust their scrum — the distinctive tackle-like move that is more of an art form, according to Ball. He also teaches new members how to properly fling the ball and helps with strategy.

“It’s not gonna be perfect every time,” he said. “You have to adapt to it.”

Although rugby is not a common sport in the United States, that does not seem to discourage members of the men’s and women’s clubs at the College. The players are enthusiastic about the sport, even and perhaps most especially if they have not studied it before.

“We get a lot of converts who are bored with other sports,” Forro said. “I’m the exception, not the rule.”
While Forro played rugby for a team at her high school, having experienced players is not a common occurrence. Sarah Reschovsky ’11, a transfer student from Kenyon college in Ohio, began playing on Kenyon’s rugby team and decided to continue when she came to Williamsburg.

“The learning curve for rugby is very different, because most people [in the U.S.] haven’t been exposed to it,” Reschovsky said.

With a new batch of players this year, both the men’s and women’s teams like their odds.

“We have a lot of great rookies … I think it’s gonna be a great season,” McCulla said.

However, the team does not only play to win — they play because they truly enjoy the sport.

“You don’t get a lot of disgruntled rugby players,” Forro said. “Because you have to love it, you have to be really into it to play. That’s why we all get along really well — we’re all having fun.”

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