The typical image of a rugby player is a bruised and bloody male built like a human bowling ball.
There are 35 women that beg to differ with that statement.
“It’s a generalization that rugby is not a women’s sport,” said senior forwards captain Delaney Chapman. “People expect huge and manly girls, but we have all different kinds.”
The women’s club rugby squad has taken this attitude and used it to become one of the most successful non-Intercollegiate Athletics teams UC Davis has to offer.
The Aggies finished the regular season undefeated in the Northern California division of the Pacific Coast Rugby Union, and captured their first-ever league title. UC Davis also finished the season ranked 11th in the nation.
“This was the first year we ever won league, and we went undefeated which was awesome,” Chapman said. “It was a great way for our seniors to go out.”
In order to clinch the league title, UC Davis had to travel to Berkeley to top rival California. In a hard fought battle, the Aggies defeated the Golden Bears 27-17 on Mar. 9. Sophomore Ashley Erdmann and senior backs captain Jenifer Lee were named the MVP’s of the match.
“Beating [Cal] to win the title was pretty awesome,” said junior and future captain Elizabeth White. “What made it really fun was beating them on their turf to win the title.”
The victory over Cal earned the Aggies the top seed for the PCRU Championships. UC Davis, however, was unable to clinch the PCRU title as it lost to perennial national powerhouse Stanford on April 4. Despite the defeat, the Aggies still qualified for the Sweet Sixteen National Championships.
At the national championships in Santa Barbara, Calif. on April 17, UC Davis fell to UCLA 17-5 in the first round. The Aggies were able to defeat Delaware in the consolation game to earn 11th place in the nation.
“To be honest, we could have easily beaten UCLA,” Lee said. “We didn’t play up to par with them in that game. In UCLA’s defense, however, they were undefeated in their league.”
There were regular season honors abound for the Aggies. Chapman was selected to be an All-American, and will play in a national all-star game at the end of May. Chapman, White and junior Kimberly Terry along with freshmen Claire Scott and Kelly Morris were each selected as Division I and II under-23 all-stars from the states of Calif., Ore., Wash. and Utah.
If winning the Nor Cal title was the top game of the year, defeating Stanford to open up the season was a close second.
On Jan. 25, the Aggies took on the Cardinal, who finished the season No. 2 in the nation, in a key Nor Cal division match-up. In an upset, UC Davis topped Stanford 10-5.
“Beating Stanford was one of those things we knew we could do,” Lee said. “The team had the mentality that we can beat any team with enough dedication and effort. We never doubted ourselves.”
No matter which player one talks to, the consensus is that the successes of this year’s squad were not necessarily due the overall talent of the team, but rather its commitment.
“For past teams, we’d struggle with getting girls committed to coming out to practices,” Chapman said. “This year, everyone was dedicated to improving, and I feel that was one of our biggest reasons for our success.”
Because the squad isn’t an ICA team, the captains cannot require the girls to go to practice. So when they decided on doing double-day practices for the first time, Lee and Chapman were worried about the possible lack of attendance for the 7 a.m. runs. Lee, however, was pleasantly surprised.
“Everybody showed up for the morning runs on the double-days, rain or shine,” Lee said. “It was great to see that kind of commitment to improving.”
Both Lee and Chapman feel the double-day practices were one of the biggest reasons for the Aggies’ on-field successes this year. She feels that not only did the morning runs and sit-ups create discipline in the girls but the workouts also kept the team in shape.
“A common way to get injured is not staying in shape or not taking down a player correctly,” Lee said. “Last year we had players drop like flies, but this year we only had a couple injuries. I think the extra practice was a big factor into that.”
Lee was one of the only Aggies to catch the injury bug this season, but it wasn’t due to lack of conditioning. She broke her nose in the loss to UCLA.
Lee’s broken nose helps disprove a common misconception about women’s rugby in that it isn’t as hard hitting as men’s rugby.
“There aren’t any major rule differences between men’s and women’s rugby,” White said. “The men might play a little more physical, but the girls can get rough as seen by [Lee’s] broken nose.”
While men’s rugby might be better known with events like the Rugby World Cup – the third most watched sports telecast in the world after the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics – women’s rugby is on the upswing.
“I think [women’s rugby] is getting there in terms of people knowing about it,” White said. “There are more and more opportunities to play after college.”
If anyone has questions about women’s rugby or is interested in joining the team, feel free to contact Elizabeth White at email@example.com.
JASON ALPERT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.