Women’s rugby: not your normal group of girls

Amanda Vasil

Women’s rugby club team captain Rachael Miller, junior marketing and psychology major, tackles sophomore Kyle Smith during a drill at practice yesterday. The team was getting ready for an upcoming rugby game this weekend.

Credit: Andrew popik

Four girls stand around a table screaming, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”

Gallons of Dairymen’s 2 percent milk pours down their chins onto their T-shirts and hoodies. This may sound like a strange contest at a carnival, but it’s really just the women’s rugby club team hanging out on a Saturday night.

“We do things not a lot of normal girls do,” said Heather Peairs, club president. “Every day it’s something new.”

The women’s rugby club team has overcome many obstacles this season, including a loss of senior leaders coupled with difficult recruitment. But that doesn’t stop them from coming together as a team and developing the skills needed to have a successful season, even if they haven’t won a game yet. At 0-6, they have five more games left to show that — starting with two tomorrow against Akron and East Suburbs at home, near Allerton Field. The first game starts at 1 p.m.

“We haven’t won, which doesn’t really bother me right now because every game we improve, and I see us getting better and better,” Peairs said. “This is going to be a very good team down the road.

“We have small victories every game,” she said. “We’re due for a win.”

For now, she is working on building team confidence and teaching players everything they need to know about rugby. She said she tries to incorporate new skills and concepts at every practice to accomplish this.

Rachael Miller, junior marketing and psychology major, said she admires the team members for dedicating their time and effort into learning the game. She also said she understands their passion.

“The girls we have have a hunger to play,” she said. “They love it. It’s the kind of sport that they don’t have to explain to anyone on the team why they’re doing it because everyone understands.”

Miller joined the team two weeks into her freshman year. She said playing rugby in college never really entered her mind, but she quickly jumped at the opportunity to join.

“I was walking by the old field by the Math and Science Building, and they saw me and were like, ‘Hey, do you want to play rugby?’” she said. “I was an immediate lifer.”

Three years later, Miller has stepped into the role of the team’s coach and match coordinator. The team is currently re-building after a large amount of seniors graduated last spring. Miller, however, stays positive and is grateful so many girls have signed up to play this season.

Along with a full roster, Miller also has team unity to be grateful for.

“We are a huge family,” she said. “People always joke how we’re like a sorority. We always joke how we’re more like a fraternity.”

Nicknames team members created for each other based on characteristics and work ethic is an example. Miller received hers from always wearing sweats from her high school — “Harvey.” Now, she is known as “Harvey McMasterson.”

For Peairs, being at every single practice since her freshman year earned the nickname “Trooper.” She said nicknames on the team are very popular and highly requested.

“I have rookie girls on the team who are like, ‘I want a nickname! Give one to me!’” she said.

Peairs said she feels that part of the team’s success is in the continuation of traditions set by past players. Communication and honesty play a huge part in their practices and games, allowing them to work on skills rather than relationships.

“There’s no long-term animosity,” Miller said. “You’ll see other teams yelling and screaming at each other, but we just never do that.”

Not only does the team talk on the field, they are always seen together off the field as well. Whether it’s eating at the Hub, watching movies in residence hall rooms or shopping at the mall, the girls can’t seem to get enough of each other. Some girls even room together in the residence halls.

Nonetheless, the team still faces many challenges throughout its season, two being self-coaching and recruitment. Lack of confidence and knowledge about the game tends to deter girls from joining, Miller said.

“People are put off by the initial look of rugby,” she said. “It’s hard to get people to believe they can do it. It is very physical, but it’s also very mental.”

Another turnoff is the time commitment, Peairs said.

“A lot of times, we’ll get girls who were very dedicated to sports in high school, and now that they’re in college, they don’t want to put the time in like they did before,” she said, “Getting people together for practice is hard.”

Despite the difficulty in recruiting, women’s rugby always seems to find the right people to join, Peairs said.

“I don’t know how it happens, but when we go around for recruitment, we always seem to find girls we all click with,” she said.

Contact club sports reporter Amanda Vasil at [email protected].