Under a rapidly darkening sky on Brighton Campus’s Clements Field, Boston College women’s rugby seeks to do something nearly impossible in a post-exploration world—it is trying to conquer uncharted territory.
Founded in 1979, BC women’s rugby has enjoyed some big wins and tournament success in its illustrious history, but nothing quite like its achievements this season. Last season, the team was knocked out of contention for a national title in a loss to the University of Connecticut—a team that would go on to win the national championship that year. The Eagles instead played Princeton in the Ivy Rugby Conference, to whom they also lost.
This season, however, has been a different story entirely. After beating UConn this month to earn a Northeast Conference title, the team places in the top eight in the nation. The team will be competing in a quarterfinal match next weekend at Vassar against the University of Northern Iowa.
For women’s rugby this is not just another tournament, but rather something much more momentous. As BCWRFC member Molly Collins, MCAS ’17, put it, it’s a fresh start to redefine the team.
“It’s a team that has integrity, it’s a team that works hard,” Collins said. “No one has expectations of us and that’s really exciting, to be able to define your own path.”
Rugby, a fast-paced and physical game, has gained popularity in the United States in recent years for both its similarities to and differences from typical American sports. The objective of rugby, like most sports, is to maintain possession of the ball and score by reaching the other team’s goal. Teams consist of 15 players, divided by position into forwards or backs, and matches typically last 80 minutes.
Each goal counts for five points, the ball can only be passed backward or laterally, and full tackles are allowed. After violations, play will often restart with a ‘scrum,’ the distinctive huddle of both teams in which players use their legs to try and gain possession of the ball.
Despite the intimidating nature of the game, nearly all of the current members of BC’s team had no experience playing rugby prior to college. Teaching rugby is not just about learning the rules, but also about demystifying misconceptions.
“I think there’s certain stereotypical labels assigned to the sport, and I love that my team is breaking barriers,” Collins said. “It doesn’t matter, a person’s a person—whoever you are, you can come play. You’re my teammate, you’re my family.”
Also speaking to the misconceptions of the sport, Katie Murphy, MCAS ’18, noted that the aggression of the sport often drives people away. She was sure to emphasize that there is nothing to fear about a little blood and sweat.
“People hear rugby and they get scared and think ‘oh, I can’t play rugby, I’m not tough enough,’” Murphy said. “But there’s a spot for everyone regardless of your toughness level, how athletic you are, how fast you are, how strong you are—it doesn’t matter. As long as you are willing to put in the work, you will succeed.”
The true identity of the team, however, relies not on skill or success, but rather on the bond the players share with each other. The quintessentially BC desire to find a sense of home on campus is what brought several current members to the team. A love of the sport is what drives the team’s current success—the relationships between players are an integral aspect of BC rugby.
Rugby has the potential to be a dangerous sport—one ugly tackle or wrong move in the scrum could leave a player badly injured. For this reason, trust within teams is vastly important—every player needs to know that her teammate is watching out for her.
This trust is particularly evident in the Eagles this year. Every new player has a few games at the beginning of her career when she is still not confident in her knowledge of the sport. It is during this time that the more senior members of the team not only direct their less experienced counterparts, but put in extra effort in order to protect their safety.
Team trust transcends performance on the field. BC women’s rugby makes a conscience effort to focus as much on the character development aspect of the sport as they do on athletic growth. Every returning member of the team is assigned a “little sister” they they not only coach on the field, but mentor throughout their BC career.
For Emerson Boone, MCAS ’18, lessons learned from rugby have helped form her as both a player and a person.
“You learn a lot about your own strength,” she said. “Once you bring down a girl who’s twice your size, you’re like, ‘All right, look what we can do.’”
As the team practices at its usual time and place on Clements Field, the late fall sunlight fades enough to warrant the end of practice. Despite the darkness creeping in, however, the Eagles are not done just yet. The team is still running sprints, practicing passes, and talking strategy with coaches even after it becomes remarkably difficult to see. To end practice, the whole team stands in a circle, stretching and enthusiastically naming which exotic animal each player would like to have as a pet.
Whether the team wins or loses, its love and determination never wavers—even as the sun sets, it is women’s rugby’s guiding light in its ongoing venture into uncharted territory.
Photo Courtesy of BC Women’s Rugby