Commentary: Seasonal Disasters at Smith
Ruggers Love the Maul
By Maya Norton '02
The red and black stripes of uniforms clash with the players' gray green bruises, as the Smith Rugby team takes the field for the starting scrum. Cheering fans crowd the sidelines, moving up and down the field with the movement of the ball. Founded in 1978, Smith Rugby is now a proud tradition. Valued for its physicality and team spirit, the team finished its 1999-2000 season ranking third in the Northeast and 13th in the nation.
Smith Rugby is part of the New England Rugby Football Union, a guiding body for teams in the Northeast. At the college level, Smith Rugby regularly competes with area colleges and universities, such as Amherst, Mount Holyoke, UMass, Dartmouth and Yale. Rugby is one of the largest club sports on campus. This year 79 players are listed on the roster, although only 15 play on the pitch at a time. The team is still enjoying its success from the spring 2000 National Sweet Sixteen Tournament, where it placed competitively against other top teams.
Coming off an undefeated regular season from fall 1999, Smith Rugby did not win as many games this fall, but team president Alyssa Dion '01 comments, "Our record does not reflect how well we played. We had a huge rebuilding season." Spring training traditionally focuses on building skills and developing the more inexperienced players, but last year the team's goal of winning the Nationals delayed the training of new players; consequently there was less depth to the team's playing this season. Smith Rugby also lost several key seniors and top A-side players to graduation and injuries. "We are still working on a lot of holes left over from last year," Dion says.
Last year Smith Rugby was student-run, having been without a coach since the 199798 season. "We are probably the only school ever at Nationals without a coach," Dion says. The team was specifically searching for someone whose values and experience would benefit all players. They finally found Susan Childer, who joined Smith Rugby in mid-October and finished out the 2000 fall season with the team. Skills improved notably between the Radcliffe game on October 7 and the game against Amherst on October 21, due to Childer's targeted trainings.
"The difference between Radcliffe
and Amherst in just two or three weeks [was because of Susan],"
Dion says. "Susan is an amazing addition to our team and
we are really lucky to have her. [She brings] fresh eyes and
a new perspective."
As rugby grows in popularity and reputation at Smith, women's rugby is doing the same around the United States. With the breakthrough victory of the United States women's soccer team at the 1999 World Cup, women's sports are gaining momentum. While U.S. men's rugby has continually had a weak showing on the international stage, U.S. women's rugby is building a strong reputation. In the U.S., men start rugby in college and don't reach the professional level until their late 20s, making it difficult for them to compete against the younger, international players who have been playing the game their whole lives-much as soccer is played by kids all over the United States. Women can learn rugby at 19 when they enter college and still compete on the world scene because women's rugby is socially unacceptable in so many cultures. The United States women's rugby team consistently ranks in the top three in World Cup play.
In many respects, rugby represents
the essence of Smith. "Ruggers" work hard and play
harder. At the conclusion
Ruggers agree that the best thing about being on the team is the sense of community. Stacey Metzger '03 comments, "I wouldn't have imagined that being a rookie could have been so rewarding with any team. Adjusting to college seemed like enough; adjusting to a sports team seemed like too much. I was mistaken, however, because joining the rugby team helped me adjust to college. I suddenly belonged to a whole community." Dion agrees with Metzger, saying, "We always try to make sure that everyone who has the enthusiasm, and wants to, can play." Ruggers agree that the team gives them a sense of family away from home.
Rugby practice starts on the first day of classes in September and runs through mid-October. Spring training begins in February. Keep an eye on the Rugby Web site at www.smith.edu/rugby for updated team information.
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