For the second year in a row, Harvard’s Radcliffe Rugby Football club qualified for the Division I Sweet 16 phase of the USA Rugby National Championship Series.
After winning all five games in their league, the team placed second at the Northeast regionals, earning them one of 16 places in the National Championship series, which will be held in April at Pennsylvania State.
“I heard there are maybe 150 teams in the Northeast, so we finished number two, and I think that’s pretty good,” says Radcliffe Rugby club president Emily E. Riehl ’06.
According to team members, rugby is an up-and-coming sport in the United States that has been popular in the British colonies for a long time. The sport is comparable to football, but without any stopping between plays, says Riehl.
“I really like the strategic aspect,” she says. “There’s just a lot you can do. With football, you run a play, and then you stop and think. With rugby, you have to make all these decisions on the spot.”
And unlike many other sports, rubgy has the same full-body-contact rules for women and men.
Harvard’s Radcliffe Rugby Football Club is 23 years old, and has about 35 players.
“We have a lot of fun off the field as well,” says co-captain Katie B. Dowty ’06. “The girls that come out to play rugby are usually tough and fun-loving.”
For now, the team has its hands full preparing for the National playoffs.
Because rugby can’t be played during the winter, the captains are trying to plan rugby trips to warmer areas during school breaks.
To go on these trips, the club needs money—money they have not raised yet, and that they are unlikely to get from Harvard because they are not a varsity sport.
As a club sport, the team has complete autonomy, from choosing its own coaches to making match schedules.
“We’d lose control over the team if we were a varsity sport,” says team member Chenelle N. Idehen ’08. “Our captains plan practice. If we were a varsity sport, the coaches would plan practice, and we wouldn’t have the ability to have people on the team leading the team.”
The rugby team can also include every player that wants to participate. “Nobody gets cut,” says coach Darlene S. Connors. “There’s a chance for everybody to succeed. If we had 50 players then we would find a game for those 50 players every week.”
But the group’s status as a club sport has also led to various other issues.
“Money has always been a big hurtle.” says co-captain Jenny Davis ’06. “We’re a newer team, so we just don’t have that kind of a budget coming from our alumni.”
According to Davis, Harvard pays for the club’s coaches and the athletic department gave the team some money last year, but not nearly enough to pay for their team to go to Nationals.
“Last year, we worked dorm crew quite a bit, but we want to find some less time-intensive ways to raise money,” says Davis. “I want to just focus on our game.”
Idehen agreed, saying that the team could probably “do a lot better and improve a lot better” if they didn’t have to worry as much about raising money.
The team, because it is not an official Harvard sport, also does not have access to Harvard’s athletic facilities and athlete medical services.
“It’s pretty bad because we get hurt pretty often,” says Dowty, noting that this year, players have experienced concussions, sprained ankles, and various neck injuries.
Another issue the team faces is recognition.
“Because you pick it up during college, people don’t respect it as much,” says Dowty. “But you get used to it. Most people don’t even know what they’re watching when they’re watching a game of rugby.”
But Connors notes that the rugby team’s recognition has increased over the last 15 years.
“Some of it I think is because we continually do so well every year,” she says. “To be a good team year after year to do something right.”
The team members say they are excitedly awaiting the National tournament in April, and they hope to do better than last year, when they lost during the first round.
“We’ve just been thinking about how to get our game to the next level,” Davis says.
During their bid for the National Championship series, the rugby team beat Syracuse 65-0 in the Northeast quarter finals, as well as SUNY Buffalo 22-10 in the Northeast semifinals.
During the finals, the team lost to the US Army 22-24 in a game that went into triple overtime, seeding them second in the Northeast division.