This past Sunday, the women’s rugby team went up against the 14th ranked team in the nation—and fought tooth and nail. With a final score of 20 to 12, the Tigers limited Mesa University to scoring the fewest points they had all year (with Mesa’s previous games resulting in shutouts like 137-0 and 121-7).
“I was terrified that we were gonna get crushed,” said senior co-captain Rachel Gonchar. “But I was so impressed with our team because we put up a fight and put some points on the board.”
The game was intense throughout and the Tigers were more than happy with the final outcome. “It was a phenomenal game,” said Head Coach Mike Windell. “The girls went out there and played their heart out against the number 14 team in the nation, so you really can’t fault anyone for win or lose.”
Senior co-captain Naya Herman echoed her coach’s excitement about the outcome of the game. “It was definitely my favorite game so far, even though it was our first loss of the season,” Herman said. “We beat almost every other team in our league by over 50 points, which is satisfying in a different way, but rugby is most exciting when it’s head to head.”
Mesa University deploys some big bodies, and that is where the Tigers experienced some difficulties. “Our biggest downfall is that we aren’t the biggest team in the world,” Coach Windell said, “But rugby is a chess game not checkers, and the girls are able to use their intelligence and speed to compensate for size.”
The team puts a lot of emphasis on thinking through plays in the practices leading up to big games. “We tend to focus on technique and getting things straightened out and organized. It’s important that every member of the team be prepared to step up,” Windell said.
Along with drilling these aspects of the game down in practice, the team also spends as much time as they can together off the field. There is a widely held belief that the bond of the team affects their level of play. “We spend a ton of time together outside of practice and it motivates us to play our best,” Gonchar said. “We are always competing for our teammates and looking out for each other.”
“Our team is uniquely close, and I’m really grateful that when the going gets rough, we still maintain a good attitude,” said Herman.
Herman cited a strong senior class as a driving force behind the Tiger’s success thus far this season. Each senior has found a role to fill. Senior Hannah Tilden plays forward “lock” which is a position that doesn’t get much glory, but is essential in setting up scoring opportunities. Senior Emilia Troyana is always first to the ball and is constantly leading by example. Senior Emilia Whitmer is known for breaking through the defense, and the team really felt her absence while playing Mesa. And finally, senior Liz Doernhoefer is a big leader and can play multiple positions depending on what the team needs.
Next weekend, the team has two playoff games that determine whether or not they make Nationals. “Rugby takes a lot of courage, and it’s hard not to get close to your teammates when they literally take hits for you,” Herman said. “I’m super proud of all our hard work this season and excited to see where we go next.”
Coach Windell strongly believes they have a chance in making it far this year. “Every team has a chance and that’s the great thing about it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big or fast or strong you are; if you work as 15 as 1, you can do anything.”
This coming weekend the Tigers will play Montana State, a school that has 28,000 students compared to a CC student body of only 2,000. But Coach Windell reminds his team that they can think through the problems on the field and play intelligently to beat their opponents, because according to him, “The smarter team often wins.”