The rugby family that tackles together, stays together

The Kent State Womens Rugby Club Team practice in the rain in front of Taylor hall on September 7, 2014.

Ellen Turk

“Crouch, bind, set!”

At practice, forward pack players of Kent State women’s rugby team interlock to practice a rugby scrum — a method of restarting play of the ball that pits competing teams in a massive huddle allowing the team’s hooker to “rake” the ball, or kick the ball onto their side, for their possession. 

“The scrum looks really strong today,” said Alicia Gibson, a senior nutrition major. “We’re looking really good for the game on Saturday.”

The modern competitions of rugby and football are both sports that developed in 19th century England. Although football is the better-known sport, both became established in America within the last century. Rugby’s popularity grew in the 1970s, and the first collegiate women’s team formed as the Colorado State University Hookers. Today, there are women’s rugby teams across the nation, with teams competing in six different divisions and internationally in the Women’s Rugby World Cup. 

Rugby is almost identical to football. Both sports involve players running up and down a rectangular field with an oblong ball passed to score at the opposing team’s goal. But in rugby, players can only pass the ball backwards or to the side. All 15 players are on the field at all times during play, and participants don’t wear padding to lessen the impact of the brutal tackles. Rugby teams can have anywhere from seven players on the field to 15. A seven-man team is usually faster in contrast to Kent State’s team, which has 15 players and focuses on a tackling strategy. 

“Rugby is a great way to get out aggression,” said Miranda Badamo, a sophomore psychology major. “You don’t need to be good, and it’s a great way to get out there and do something. I like tackling especially because you aren’t penalized like in other sports.”

About half of the girls on the Kent State rugby team have a background in sports.  Each came to the sport of rugby a different way, but the team attitude has a big influence on why they stay. 

“I’ve been to three different colleges, and I’ve played rugby at all three,” Katherine Stiles, a junior pre-dental major, said. “And at every school the girls I’ve met were the most amazing I’ve ever known. Rugby is a family, anywhere you go.”

Gibson said the group is more of a family than a team. The rugby culture demands aggressive play on the field but supports a strong bond off it. After every game, competing teams have a “social” where they hang out and eat pizza together.  

To bond, every fall the team has a scavenger hunt in which they have to complete tasks such as act out scenes from Bridesmaids in front of strangers. After some practices, team members watch tape or go to Little City Grill for dollar burgers. Veteran players take on “rookies” each season, new players that they mentor as the girls learn how to tackle properly and assume their roles on the team. 

“We dress up all the rookies up during the first week of practice,” Badamo said. “This year it was 90s characters and there were a lot of good costumes. Of course, every year it is the biggest secret. No one can know.” 

As the reigning champions in the MAC, the Kent State women’s rugby team takes competition seriously, while still having fun. At practice, the girls divide into teams and take turns hitting the dummies carrying eggs in an effort to teach passing skills and compete in rucking drills, trying to tackle each other down. Before games, the girls gather in huddles or have competitions between two teammates in a fake scrummage. 

The Kent State women’s rugby team will defend its title Sunday, Oct. 12 at 11 a.m. against Central Michigan University on the back field at Dix Stadium.

Contact Ellen at [email protected].