Women’s rugby embraces ups and downs of varsity status

Making its debut at the highest level, the team has rededicated itself in the face of new challenges

Sports Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2014

The women’s rugby squad was promoted to a varsity sport last year after a long campaign to be promoted from club sport status. The change made Brown’s team the 10th varsity women’s rugby program in the country.

The women’s rugby team steps back onto the pitch this year as the 10th varsity women’s rugby team in the nation. Armed with the same energy and intensity that propelled them to varsity status at the end of last year, the team now takes on the challenge of competing at this new position.

“There’s a whole new commitment level,” said Head Coach Kathy Flores. “It’s exciting to see.”

Though the team is smaller than most comparable varsity squads — it has only 24 players while fellow varsity squad Harvard had a 39-woman roster last year — the players have been particularly determined, specifically targeting fitness and toughness. “They’re intent and focused,” Flores said, adding that the squad is tight-knit and promotes a very strong family atmosphere that only strengthens the intensity of training.

“[Playing rugby] is kind of like going to war together…which makes it hard not to be a family,” Flores said. “You have to be there or [your teammate] gets pummeled.”

Rugby, which is very physical and often rough, makes the team’s newfound access to the athletic training facilities all the more valuable.

“With this support, we will be in better playing position,” Flores said.

Another adjustment comes in the attention given to injury. Players used to not give much attention to small injuries, such as a jammed finger or a blister, and the ailments would exacerbate throughout the season, said co-captain Tiara Mack ’16. “The biggest [change] we recognize is the awareness [of] different injuries… Our bodies are now ready to compete at that varsity level.”

Co-captain Oksana Goretaya ’17 echoed this: “Attentiveness to our safety and wellbeing as athletes has definitely improved.”

The team will have to be flexible in the coming weeks as it adjusts to the time commitment of a heavier practice schedule than it had last year. Instead of practicing three times a week, with flexibility for missing practice due to class or other commitments, the squad now meets at least four or five times a week.

Despite the extra adjustments, the squad still has its eyes on an Ivy title. The Bears have always been competitive, reaching the national semifinals as recently as 2012.

“We’ve got some of the best people in the country on our team… There’s a lot of star players, and it’s a really young team, too,” said Mack, who noted that of all of the players on the roster, only one played before Brown.

Standout back Saskia Morgan ’16 has trained at the Olympic training camp and been named an All-American in each of her two years playing collegiate rugby. The team expects less switching around of positions now that commitment levels are higher, which means players can grow and develop within their specific roles.

“We had our first scrimmage, and our coaches were really happy with our performance,” Mack said. The team practices with and scrimmages against alumni and various experienced rugby players in the area.

As captains, Mack and Goretaya have stressed the importance of living up to the varsity status. “People are watching us: they’re expecting us to win. They’re expecting us to be a good team, better than we’ve ever been,” Goretaya said.

With higher stakes on the varsity level, the team is seeking higher levels of athleticism as well as the ability and desire to commit, though Flores said “anybody who wants to try this sport is welcome to come.”

“Any sport translates onto the pitch,” Mack said. “As long as you have that competitive drive, you can play rugby.”

The team kicks off its season with a game at Harvard, last year’s Ivy champion, on Sept. 13.


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