The Fairfield University women’s club rugby team has been dominant all throughout the Tri-State Conference this year, earning themselves a bid in the conference championship.
With a recent double-overtime 29-24 victory over Montclair State University, the Division II-classified team has also punched their ticket into the national tournament which involves 16 of the nation’s best teams. This “come-from-behind” win saw our Stags covered head to toe in mud, since rugby is a sport played entirely on grass fields. “It makes the game a bit harder to play, but winning a game like that proves the chemistry of the team,” co-captain Delaney Hall ‘22 stated.
While everyone began moving back onto campus and the rugby season began peeking over the horizon, returning players on the team began to worry about the number of players they had. However, thanks to a massive recruiting campaign, the team was able to rally 15 new players who were taught the ins and outs of rugby. “We planned a bunch of fun events during our preseason because we knew recruiting was crucial,” co-captain Caitlin Wood ‘22 commented.
Before the season even started, the team was already tackling adversity; like Wood, her teammates were anxious about recruiting players. “We were nervous we were going to have to play down numbers,” said Kieran McAllister ‘23. “The club fair and reaching out to first-years was a huge success and now we have over 15 new girls learning the sport.”
Other upperclassmen understood how out-of-the-ordinary the sport may have seemed, but are grateful that their new players took the leap. “Rugby is not the typical sport girls come into college planning to play so we try and encourage girls to just take a chance and try it,” senior co-captain Susan Cerulle said. “It is not as scary as many girls think and the friends you make on the team are ones that will last a lifetime.”
As most of the newcomers began to try out the sport for the first time, the squad traveled up to Vassar College for their first away game, which was the first time the team was allowed to play in over two years. Rugby, from the youth level up to international play, was put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this late September matchup, the Brewers beat the Stags 39-14.
Knowing what we know about this game, the women’s club rugby team has been taking the season to gear up for their second battle with Vassar in the Tri-State Conference championship on Nov. 6. “Vassar is a very good team and to keep up with them we will need to make sure that our foundational-level skills are at their best, and then we can start to implement more detailed skill sets,” Hall explained.
Head coach Jane Kim echoed a similar sentiment as her captains and players. “I can’t speak to the changes this season because I am new to the team, but I would like to think that we have raised our level of talent and developed deeper skills and higher rugby IQ to make Vassar worry about us more than they used to,” Kim stated. Although the team has seen a great deal of changes made over the last few years, they are adapting very well to the hand they were dealt.
Falling to Vassar early on in the season was just another step in building the chemistry of the team. With other very exciting moments throughout the season, the team has been able to have fun and create lasting memories while also playing their hardest on the field. In this season, most players felt as though the game against Montclair State University was the highlight of their season thus far. “Our last three games have been very memorable. I mean we just played Montclair State, and we were losing the entire second half, but managed to tie them up with ten minutes to go and hold them up twice. We then tied it again in the first overtime, and won in the second overtime with a minute to go,” Wood explained.
After finding a great amount of success during the regular season with an overall record of 5-1, the next steps are clear for the club. “After this weekend, one loss will be the end of our season,” Hall said. “I want to go as far as possible in the tournament, but staying grounded in winning each game first will push us further, rather than focusing on the end goal of making it to North Carolina, where the semi-final and championship game of Nationals is held.” The best eight teams will make the playoffs, but eight more will play in wildcard games to make the tournament.
After competing in both the conference championship against Vassar and the national tournament, there will be a brief break in the winter, where the team will be able to rest up for “Sevens”, which is a league that takes place in the spring. “Sevens is a bunch of tournaments that we play in with seven girls as compared to 15,” McAllister confirmed. “It gives a chance for the rookies to learn and play the sport before our major season in the fall.”
Captains Wood and Hall, alongside co-captain Cerulle, have all expressed their gratitude for being able to lead the team this year and are thankful for the lifelong friendships they made through their time with the team. “I think being a captain of the team for me personally is about setting an example for the new girls and being a role model for how to act on and off the field,” Cerulle said.
Hall feels a similar way, and acknowledges the fact that it is important to create relationships off the pitch. “The balance between fun and serious is extremely important because while we want to win and stay competitive, we also want our time spent together to have meaning beyond rugby,” Hall stated.
Looking beyond this season, this season has set a precedent for the future of Fairfield University women’s club rugby. “The future looks bright as we continue to build out the team and add more talented athletes to the roster,” Kim said. “We have the potential to sustain a national-playoff level team every year, and our success will hopefully continue to attract students to come out and try rugby.”
In the conference championship, the Stags were stopped in their tracks in a 75-7 loss to Vassar College. “It was a tough loss but all the girls who played were able to learn a lot about the sport and grow as players in those 80 minutes,” Emily Raia ‘24 stated.
The team has been very successful this season and has shown serious promise for the upcoming spring seasons as well as the future fall season coming up next school year, where the current rookies on the team will move up to a larger role for their team.