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The small, women’s liberal arts college of Mount Holyoke in western Massachusetts (founded in 1837) has fielded a rugby club for 35-years. It has been a member of a variety of different leagues, but today competes in the New England Wide Collegiate Rugby Conference. Its fall roster hosts 44 players and holds practice five days a week: three full-contact sessions with a coach, and two days of basic skill drills.
Sarah Weidman, one of the captains said, “Right now the season is going great. We had a brilliant recruitment year so we have a bunch of new rookies, which is why we’re having so much fun. We’ve had a couple rough years and we’re turning it around right now - it’s beautiful to watch. We hired a new coach two years ago and this is her second full season.”
The MHRFC’s best results number a silver medal in 2010 at the National Small Collegiate Rugby Organization’s Women’s Division IV National Championships. More recent competitive highlights include spring 2014 when the team won the Frechette Cup, the annual ”Big Game” match against rival Smith College, which plays in a higher division.
An on-going topic is that the college’s rugby participants do not receive physical education credit for playing, and therefore must also take gym. A second dilemma is the small number of youth programs for women’s rugby throughout the country. This makes it difficult to recruit high school players, especially when some of the D-I Ivies (e.g.; Brown and Harvard) offer programs as a full varsity sport.
The club’s Match and Field Secretary Brook Huynh said, “What it comes down to is the community that has been cultivated throughout my time on the rugby team. It’s really great to have a consistent group of people who are a support network on the field and off the field. I think [playing for] a larger university would shift the dynamics so the group would have less of an intimacy. After playing rugby for six semesters, it’s really great to see the shift in how people strengthen throughout the years and take on different leadership positions.”
Historically, the program has turned out notable members of the rugby community. These include Dr. Annemarie Farrell, one the few female coaches of men’s collegiate rugby in the United States at Ithaca College, NY. Mt. Holyoke also lists alumna Elisabeth Dustin, the Assistant Coach of Bowdoin College’s women’s rugby team, and the Competition Chair of NESC Rugby, a Division II Women’s Collegiate Conference.
The team finished its fall 2014 season with a record of three wins, two losses and one tie. In the spring, it looks forward to the annual participation in the Beast of the East Rugby Tournament and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Prom Dress Sevens, as well as local scrimmages.
Rugby at Mt. Holyoke…vibrant and thriving.
(Rugby Today welcomes Clara Lefton who will write about girl's and women's rugby.)
PHOTO CREDITS: DOUGLAS KELLER