The USF Women’s Rugby team gets into position in a game against Humboldt State. (Photo by Carissa Miller)

Teams Put Rugby on the Map at USF

After a slew of ferocious tackles, some minor scuffles, and plenty of bumps and bruises, everyone finally got to catch their breath. The USF Men’s Rugby team had just lost to Sierra College 31-10 on Saturday, Feb. 22, but after scoring 10 quick points towards the end of the game, the team did not look the least bit defeated. The players went from enthusiastically cheering for each other on the sidelines to chatting and eating pizza on the bleachers, assuming the look of a team that knew it was getting better.

“It’s kind of like a little brotherhood,” said head coach Rod McLeod of his team.

Club sports provide a way for students at USF to maintain an active lifestyle and enjoy staying in shape, and rugby offers that along with an added dose of competition. USF’s men’s and women’s rugby teams both compete as Division II sports, are members of USA Rugby, and go up against other California schools throughout the spring.  With more than 30 male and female students participating in rugby at USF, the teams are beginning to receive more attention, while also recruiting new talent and working to gain the respect that they and the sport of rugby both deserve.

To many people unfamiliar with the sport, rugby appears to be little more than football without padding. However, in reality there are many crucial details that separate rugby from football. In rugby, passing the ball forward is illegal, and players are required to pass the ball either backwards or to the side. As a result, a player can advance the ball down the field only by kicking the ball or running with it. When a player is tackled, they are forced to let go of the ball, and the two teams proceed to fight for possession. Finally, in rugby, a player scores a try rather than a touchdown. Each try is worth five points, and they are followed up with a field goal kick that can give the team two extra points if converted.

For the USF Men’s Rugby team, the 2014 season kicked into full gear as soon as students returned from Winter Break. During the first week back, the team went through what assistant coach Robert Azcarate-Bascherini calls a “Hell Week,” which involves two rigorous workouts each day. This helped them prepare for their first game on Jan. 25, which marked the first of seven games that take place over the course of seven consecutive weeks. After Saturday’s loss to Sierra College, the squad now sits at 2-3 and has a chance to put together USF’s first winning season in the team’s five-year history.
“This year, everyone’s really committed,” said senior Ashan Fernando, who has been on the men’s rugby team for three years. “It’s good to see, because we’re playing at a higher level, we’re winning matches, and we’re competing. So the next couple years look bright.”

Even if the team doesn’t boast a winning record after its last three games (which come against Cal Maritime Academy, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Sonoma State, respectively), the season will still be viewed as a successful one by many.

“We’ve played teams that are stronger, faster, and more skilled, but we never hung our heads,” Azcarate-Bascherini said. “I’ve had parents and referees come up to me saying how much better the team is looking.”

USF Men’s Rugby has laid out objectives that they hope to achieve, but ultimately, the results of the games do not compare to the effect that rugby has on the students’ lives, both now and in the future.
“I think it teaches you a lot of skills that are going to be useful after graduation, McLeod said. “Time management, commitment, working hard towards a goal, and also kind of a team environment is crucial for pretty much any job you have after college.”

While the men’s rugby team is finally starting to come into its own, the women’s squad is currently going through a rebuilding phase. Before the beginning of the season, former head coach Kathy Flores left to coach the women’s rugby team at Brown University, and was replaced by USF alum Brittany Rickman. This season has been one of adjustment, as the team, which consists of a combination of students from USF and San Francisco State, has not only had to learn a new coach’s system, but has also brought in many new players who are relatively new to rugby.

“With the departure of our longtime head coach, as well as a grand departure of veteran players due to graduation, we’ve essentially had to reformat our entire team, the way we practice, and the way we play,” said junior Carissa Miller, the president of the USF Women’s Rugby team.

Forced to reshape their identity, women’s rugby is in the midst of a trying season. The group has lost their first three games to UC Santa Cruz, Humboldt State, and University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. Still, there are three games left for the team to attempt to redeem itself, and more importantly, for the players to strengthen their friendships and cherish their time together.

“I have met some of the most amazing people on this team – we have women from every type of background you can imagine,” Miller said. “We all might be a little bit different from each other but when it comes time to practice or when it’s match time, we share the same determination and drive, the same love and vigor for this physical and mental sport.”

Along with the camaraderie that the team exhibits, the inclusive nature of rugby is another positive aspect for anyone looking to join women’s rugby at USF.

“If anyone has ever told you can’t do something because of your size or your athletic ability, then this is the sport for you,” Miller said. “Women’s rugby, and rugby in general, has a place for every body type and athletic ability.”

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