Women’s rugby looks for third-consecutive MAC title

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The Kent State Women’s Rugby Club run around the field outside of Taylor Hall to warm up in the rain on October 7, 2014.

Kyle Samec

The Kent State women’s rugby team is known throughout the Mid-American Conference as one of the top teams. They have battled through the past couple seasons with little resistance.

This year, besides emphasizing better technique and offseason workout routines, the team will be facing stiffer competition in hopes of taking this program to the next level.

Last year, the team went 5-0 in the regular season and were the Division 2 MAC Conference Champions for the second year in a row. However, both seasons ended early, losing in the playoffs to Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University.

Head coach Jeff Horton thinks his team will be better prepared for those types of opponents this season after focusing on fundamentals and preparation in the offseason.

“The work ethic that a lot of our players have shown over the past three months has really been uncanny,” Horton said. “As far as hitting the weight room and getting their conditioning reps in. They’ve done a really good job of recruiting as well.”

As in all sports, the team has had to deal with some injuries early on in the offseason. One of the team’s key players, junior Miranda “Tank” Badamo, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in her right knee during a summer tournament and will be gone for the season.

Another player who is dealing with a serious injury going into the season is Michaela Williams, a senior inside center/wing, who has a tear in her labrum in her left shoulder. She has gone through three months of therapy and is hoping to avoid surgery, which would probably end her season.

Colleen Carroll, a sophomore fullback, said getting new players each year is key to maintaining success in a program and overcoming common injury issues.

Because the Kent team is a club sport, they do not get the recruiting tools to help when key players leave school or get injured. But because they are in Division 1, they face off against other rugby programs around the nation that are varsity level and have all the perks of being such.

This year, the recruiting class showed the girls that a lot of interest is starting to build around this women’s team.

“We had about 20 new girls show up to the first practice and we have about 10 more girls on the roster this year than we had last year,” Carroll said. “It’s exciting to see what the new rookies bring to the table.”

Along with recruiting always being a challenge, the team will be playing some of the bigger schools in the nation this year in order to prove they are capable of handling the bigger names in college rugby.

Hannah Henry, a senior center and team president, said the teams in the current conference are not as willing to increase their schedule difficulty with better teams, something the Flashes are really trying to do.

“We’re trying to progress this program and go into a different conference,” Henry said. “By scheduling teams such as Pittsburg, Maryland and Notre Dame College, we’re kind of preparing ourselves for that higher level of play.”

In order to progress, the team has to learn from last year’s mistakes. A topic that Coach Horton hit on as important for success this year — and success throughout the playoffs — is for a more collective effort in coming together and playing as a unit.

“The one thing we really wanted to focus on this year was more selfless play,” Horton said about the changes that need to be implemented this year in order to achieve their goals. “Team play is the focal point. The two main speaking points that we have this year are be better than the team we were yesterday and always support your teammate.”

Support for teammates goes along with the family attitude that Henry said has allowed the players to come closer together and be successful.

“We are a family on and off the field,” Henry said. “We even have this slogan that is, ‘Flashes Fly Together.’ We hold each other accountable and we’re there for each other whether it be support during a play or something like school work or something outside of school.”

The women’s rugby team kicked off its 2015 campaign against a very difficult opponent: The Notre Dame College Falcons in South Euclid, Ohio, last Saturday.

The Falcons finished 2014 by winning the American Collegiate Rugby Association Fall Championship and went undefeated throughout the year in competitive play. The Flashes lost 77-7 to the Falcons and head to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers of the University of Pittsburgh this Saturday.

Kyle Samec is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]