Four years ago, the Radcliffe Rugby Football Club found itself near the bottom of Division I women’s college rugby, struggling to find enough players to field a complete team. It appeared that the program, which won the national collegiate championship in 1998, had come to its demise.
Fast forward to 2011, and Radcliffe is now poised to return to its championship glory.
Almost 15 years after its last run at the title, Radcliffe is back again.
Boasting a roster of over 30 members, the team has advanced to the national semifinals of the Division II women’s college rugby tournament behind a tandem of experience and young talent.
“We have some very experienced senior players and some amazing new freshman players,” sophomore co-captain Megan Verlage said. “The combination of those two, with some solid players in between, has been phenomenal and has pushed us to the next level.”
Reaching the Final Four has left some members of the Radcliffe team in disbelief.
“It’s been a surreal experience,” senior flyhalf Evan Hoese said. “I’m still shocked that we’re here, but it’s a good shock.”
Hoese was recently named Harvard Club Athlete of the Year. Though honored by the distinction, the senior was more flattered by her nomination and recognition from her peers.
“What meant the most to me was that our coaches and the president of our club would even throw my name in the hat,” Hoese said.
Hoese, a four-year veteran of the team, remembers the days when Radcliffe was a non-factor on the rugby scene. She recounted playing games when a limited roster meant her team was forced to play one or two women down.
But for her, those memories only make the team’s current success sweeter.
“It means so much more that we fought our way through so much,” Hoese said. “We had to fight for respect from other teams. Now that we’re getting that respect, it’s really exciting.”
The team’s biggest win yet this year came against Norwich University two weeks ago.
Recent matchups have led to a rivalry between Radcliffe and the Cadets, and the quarterfinal contest only raised the stakes.
Norwich took control of the game early on, leading for the first 60 minutes of play. With just 20 minutes left and the Cadets up 7-5, Norwich was poised to beat Radcliffe for the fifth consecutive meeting.