News

City Manager Talks Cambridge Emergency Shelter, Discourages Street Closures in Council Meeting

News

On Leave Due to COVID-19 Concerns, Forty-Three Harvard Dining Workers Risk Going Without Pay

News

Harvard Prohibits Non-Essential University Travel Until May 31, International Travel Cancelled Until August 31

News

Ivy League Will Not Allow Athletes to Compete as Grad Students Despite Shortened Spring Season

News

‘There’s No Playbook’: Massachusetts Political Campaigns Navigate a New Coronavirus Reality

Radcliffe Rugby Ends Challenging Year in Triumph

By Jason T. Benowitz, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

For Radcliffe Rugby, the path to the team's first national championship last weekend was long, arduous, and for at least one team member, life-threatening.

Lori E. Rifkin '00 was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease during winter break, when doctors told her she would have to undergo chemotherapy this semester to fight the cancer.

As hooker, Rifkin plays an integral role in the team's offensive play. Teammate Rebecca A. "Bex" Wallison '98 recalled the team's reaction to Rifkin's diagnosis.

"[Since] we were so obsessed with rugby, our first question was, 'Is she going to be all right?,' and our second question was, `Can she still play?,'" Wallison said.

Rifkin, disregarding her doctor's advice to sit out the spring season, played with intensity and achieved her personal goal of playing at the national tournament.

"In a very real way, rugby helped to save my life," Rifkin said in a recent interview. "Going to every treatment with it in mind that I wanted to go to practice in a few days really helped see me through this."

Team members said Rifkin's struggle was also a source of collective inspiration.

"I am amazed by her ability to come out and play--she's still the same Lori," said Emily C. Yee '98, an All-American four-year veteran of the team.

Wallison, also an All-American who has played with the team since she was a first-year, said the duties of the hooker position made Rifkin's play more impressive.

"You go out on the field to see her ramming her head into other people's heads [despite her hair loss due to chemotherapy]; running around the field after she's been fed chemicals to kill the cancer," Wallison said. "I sort of think of Lori as this higher being."

Wallison added that achievements like Rifkin's stem from the entire squad's love of the game.

"It's another example, albeit an impressive example, of what Radcliffe Rugby means to the team," she said.

All players interviewed acknowledged the special intimacy which exists among team members. M. Zelime Ward '98 said players have no trouble sharing experiences in the locker room as well as on the field.

"I've rowed varsity crew, played sports in high school, but this is the most open and really bonded team I've been on," Ward said. "We're open to talking about our beliefs and values."

Ward added that "some athletes have problems on other sports being accepted--problems with the coach or about race or sexuality," but she did not experience these challenges to forging common bonds as a member of the Radcliffe Rugby team. "I feel very comfortable there," she said.

Rifkin said the lack of widespread support from the College administration and fellow students has led to a closeness among players, who focused on personal goals rather than developing a following on campus.

"It's a completely different atmosphere than any other team I've been on," Rifkin said. "We're out there dedicated to each other, we know how much we all put into the game. It's a self-gratification thing--you work for no one but yourself."

Wallison noted that the team's strong sense of unity also derives from player rotation, which allows all team members time on the field. She added that because matches consist of various skill-level games, from A-side to B-side and sometimes even C-side, so "nobody's trying to beat out the other person...pretty much everybody gets to play."

Yee said the "tons of injuries" the team suffered this year also "helped us to be a stronger team." In addition to Rifkin's diagnosis, last month All-American Heather Lance '99 suffered a broken leg, Wallison underwent surgery on her hand at the beginning of the season, Ward broke her wrist, and many team members experienced recurring dislocated shoulders and ligament injuries. She added that "all the years of injuries were worth it" when the team won the national championship last weekend.

As was typical of the Radcliffe Rugby season, it took a show of courage from players, lead by Co-Captains Kymberle J. Zielinski '99 and Erika R. Lundquist '99, to defeat Penn State in the championship game, with the team down 7-0 at the end of the first half.

"Being behind has never been an issue with the heart that we put into the game," said Ward of the team's gradual success. "Our team has a lot of confidence in ourselves. There was no question that we could come back and win the game."

"We wanted it so much I don't think it would have mattered how much we were down," Rifkin said.

The victory, however, made history. With it, Radcliffe Rugby became the first fully female-coached team to win the title, a fact players said was important to their success. For Wallison, who has played soccer with many teams, Radcliffe Rugby marked her first experience with an all-female coaching staff. She said the difference was noticeable.

"They understand how women go about doing things, what women consider success," she said. "It's hard to understand if you have a male coach that you can achieve. These are women that we could definitely look up to."

The coaches' experience is both significant and varied. Of Radcliffe's three coaches, Darlene "Bubba" Connors and Mary Dixey played rugby on the national level and Lisa Gartner played on the regional level. Wallison said Radcliffe's coaches definitely affected the team's style of play.

"We're better mannered team--other teams have a lot more dirty play," she said. "We love to win and we want to win but we also want to win on good terms...our coaches foster that."

Despite the team's unprecedented success,Radcliffe Rugby still struggled to pay its waythrough the season. As a club sport, the team wasnot eligible for the funding, NCAA varsity teamscurrently receive from the College.

The team has made ends meet by selling T-shirtsand raffle tickets and with help fromUndergraduate Council, Radcliffe Union of Studentsand Harvard and Radcliffe College grants.

Still, players complain that not all costs arecovered.

"It's hard to get to the games, to do what weneed to do," Ward said. "The smallest things, likepaying for your own meals during road trips" are aburden to the club.

Team members pay $45 in dues each semester,plus another $100 to $200 to compete intournaments in Washington D.C. during springbreak. In addition, for the team to attendtournaments, teammates who live in the area oftendonate housing and lend their cars to the team fortransportation to and from games.

The team must also cut corners to provideplayers adequate medical coverage.

Since the College bars club sports from thetrainer's room, Connor, who has a nursing degree,must play both coach and trainer, aiding injuredplayers as well as those with recurring problems.

Rifkin recalled that after an injury to aDartmouth player the team was denied access tovarsity teams' ice. She said she was insulted at"not having medical access because we're not`real' athletes."

"It's things like giving us basic access toice--it's frozen water!" Rifkin said.

Wallison said she was similarly frustrated withthe team's club status, but that she was moreembarrassed by the team's lack of resources.

"It's hard to go to these tournaments, to seethese teams in their warm-up uniforms, withtrainers," Wallison said. "We've proven that we'rea very dedicated, serious group and that wedeserve recognition."

As for the future, of the team's 11 graduatingseniors, some intend to continue their interest inthe sport and many are motivated to keep playingby the recent announcement that rugby--male andfemale--will be included in the 2004 OlympicGames.

Ward said she "definitely" has Olympic dreamsand will take her first step toward pursuing themthis summer, at the under-23 national team camp.Yee and Wallison plan to room together next yearin Manhattan, and would not discount thepossibility of playing club Rugby there.

"I wouldn't mind being an Olympic medalist,continuing with the success," Wallison said. "It'sa great feeling to go out there and play the sportyou love.

Despite the team's unprecedented success,Radcliffe Rugby still struggled to pay its waythrough the season. As a club sport, the team wasnot eligible for the funding, NCAA varsity teamscurrently receive from the College.

The team has made ends meet by selling T-shirtsand raffle tickets and with help fromUndergraduate Council, Radcliffe Union of Studentsand Harvard and Radcliffe College grants.

Still, players complain that not all costs arecovered.

"It's hard to get to the games, to do what weneed to do," Ward said. "The smallest things, likepaying for your own meals during road trips" are aburden to the club.

Team members pay $45 in dues each semester,plus another $100 to $200 to compete intournaments in Washington D.C. during springbreak. In addition, for the team to attendtournaments, teammates who live in the area oftendonate housing and lend their cars to the team fortransportation to and from games.

The team must also cut corners to provideplayers adequate medical coverage.

Since the College bars club sports from thetrainer's room, Connor, who has a nursing degree,must play both coach and trainer, aiding injuredplayers as well as those with recurring problems.

Rifkin recalled that after an injury to aDartmouth player the team was denied access tovarsity teams' ice. She said she was insulted at"not having medical access because we're not`real' athletes."

"It's things like giving us basic access toice--it's frozen water!" Rifkin said.

Wallison said she was similarly frustrated withthe team's club status, but that she was moreembarrassed by the team's lack of resources.

"It's hard to go to these tournaments, to seethese teams in their warm-up uniforms, withtrainers," Wallison said. "We've proven that we'rea very dedicated, serious group and that wedeserve recognition."

As for the future, of the team's 11 graduatingseniors, some intend to continue their interest inthe sport and many are motivated to keep playingby the recent announcement that rugby--male andfemale--will be included in the 2004 OlympicGames.

Ward said she "definitely" has Olympic dreamsand will take her first step toward pursuing themthis summer, at the under-23 national team camp.Yee and Wallison plan to room together next yearin Manhattan, and would not discount thepossibility of playing club Rugby there.

"I wouldn't mind being an Olympic medalist,continuing with the success," Wallison said. "It'sa great feeling to go out there and play the sportyou love.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags