Women’s Rugby Club Breaks Out of the Scrum
Women’s Rugby is one of the newest club sports at the University of Arkansas. The club was formed late last semester by president Natalie Shuff who has an apparent passion for the unique sport of rugby.
“I just fell in love with the sport, I had played backyard football growing up and I just knew this was for me,” Shuff said.
Shuff is from Nashville, Tenn., where she played rugby in high school. She said she loved the sport while in high school and was sad that there wasn’t a club team at Arkansas.
“I fell in love with Arkansas and this school so I wasn’t going to not come here because of club rugby,” Shuff said. “But it killed me to hear about how much fun all my teammates from high school were having playing club in college.”
She had often been the person convincing the other girls to join the team in high school, so it made her sad that they were getting to play and she wasn’t. So Shuff took matters into her own hands.
Last year, when Shuff was only a freshman, she contacted University Recreation about starting a Women’s Club Rugby team.
“It was not easy, but they make it possible which is awesome,” Shuff said of starting a brand new club sport. She also noted that she had experience recruiting and building up a team because she had to do it almost every year in high school as well.
The team formed in May of 2012 and there were two unofficial practices last semester. Now the team has grown to 23 girls. They played their first game Sept. 29 in Fayetteville and lost to Truman State.
“I was just so proud of them,” Shuff said. “The girls have already connected with the sport — they played their first game, they have their first big bruises and they’re falling in love with it just like I did.”
Only three of the girls on the team have ever played rugby before. Shuff said it is sort of a challenge to get people interested in a sport that no one has ever heard of.
“I had no idea what I was doing at the first practice because I had never even seen a rugby game in my life,” club member Grace Crifasi said. “Now, I find rugby to be so much fun and I’m learning at each practice.”
Crifasi, a freshman who has played basketball, run track and cross country and even been on a bowling team throughout her life, says that rugby is unlike any sport she’s ever played.
“It’s pretty much non-stop moving,” Crifasi said. “I never know what is going to happen next.”
Crifasi plays outside center and says she sees herself being on this team for four years.
Katharine McDonnell, another freshman on the team, says that although she has never played rugby, her father did when he was young and his passion for it inspired her to check it out.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” McDonnell said. “But rugby is such a unique sport with so much tradition.”
Shuff emphasized that any type of athlete can play — big girls, small girls, fast girls and slower girls. She also said that girls who have played soccer or run track transition pretty easily into playing rugby.
This past weekend the team traveled to Norman, Okla., to participate in the War of the Roses tournament where they faced Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Arkansas beat OSU 15-0 before losing to OU 20-0.
“I think fitness is our main problem,” Shuff said. “I just don’t want to scare them away doing suicides up and down the field, but that’s what it takes to be in shape for an 80-minute game of rugby.”
McDonnell said her least favorite part of the sport was definitely the soreness from after a match but also said that they’ve been told it is that soreness that they will eventually grow to love.
The team has been lucky to have volunteer coaches who come to practice every Tuesday and Thursday. They are also ahead of the game because they are in the Heart of America League in just their first year as a team, which allows them to play competitively.
The team is comprised of just freshmen and sophomores, but Shuff is adamant that anyone and everyone could join this sport and have a great time doing it.
“This is a growing sport,” Shuff said. “It is going to be in the Olympics in 2016.”
Shuff also emphasizes that there is more to this sport than just tackling and running around. She says it takes true athleticism, but she doesn’t want people to think female rugby players are scary and manly.
“This team is full of all types of girls and it is amazing to see such a diverse group of people come together,” McDonnell said. “It is so nice to be surrounded by such positive and extremely motivated coaches and students.”
There are not any more home games on the schedule, but the team is attempting to schedule a home game for Oct. 20.