Women’s rugby ready to defend title

Lauren Lott, Sports Reporter

The reigning national champion Winona State University’s women’s rugby team is gearing up this semester for a return to nationals in the fall.

“Spring is the orientation semester to give girls a feel of the intensity and feel of the team and practices,” first-year Emily Becker, a veteran on the team from last semester, said. “It helps us to see if they really want to play.”

The Black Katts have recruited 10 new girls and are using this season to teach them the game.

“Every semester we have to teach new people how to play rugby,” coach Roger Riley said. “We have girls come that have never even seen a game of rugby.”

Most of the players that join the team have no previous experience, but it does not take them long to catch on.

“The rookies are picking it up quickly this semester,” Becker said.

Although the team is young, they are not worried about heading to the playoffs.

“We will have a lot of depth in our team going into the fall,” Becker said. “Last season we only had three seniors on the team in the national championship game.”

Another reason they are looking forward to their league season is how close they are as a team.

“We are more of a family than a team,” sophomore Summer Downs, a veteran, said.

Although the team is close, they do not play favorites.

“There are no cliques or groups of friends on the team,” first-year Abigail Andler, another veteran, added. “All of my friends are on the rugby team.”

Having close relationships off the field helps them work together in games.

“You can communicate better when you are friends with someone,” Andler said. “I can tell when someone needs my help, because I know them so well.”

According to Riley, the familiar aspect of a rugby team is common all over the world.

“Rugby is just a brotherhood and a sisterhood no matter where you go,” Riley said. “There is so much camaraderie in the sport.”

The highlight of their fall season shows why they think this is important.

“The Gustavus game was the first time in the season that everything clicked,” Becker said. “It was the ideal game of rugby. It was beautiful.”

Andler agreed, and said the impact could still be felt.

“It felt like we were a family and a connected team,” Andler said. “After that game we connected on a different level which helped us the rest of the season, and in the final game.”

Although they are feeling confident about the next season, they feel a lot of pressure to repeat their win at nationals.

“It is almost an expectation every year to repeat what people have done in the past,” Riley said. “It puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the girls.”

The team has made it to the final four at nationals for the past eight years in a row.

“How far we go in the playoffs shows how much the team really wants to win,” team president Jordan Hofmeister said.

Even re-watching the final game last season still has an effect on the team.

“I’ve watched our national championship game four times and it still gives me chills,” Becker said. “I get nervous every time, even though I know the outcome.”

Everything that is happening this semester makes them excited for the fall.

“Practices have been good and running smoothly,” Becker said. “I feel really good about next season.”