Sports / The Prairie Fire / March 6, 2008

Women’s rugby: scrum of the earth

A new sport has appeared on the Knox College campus, and in a rather interesting form, especially for what it is. Two freshmen girls from South High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the home of Prince, have put together a women’s rugby club on campus, and are serious about competing.

Rugby is a sport that started in Rugby, England, and American football is based on it. It is a full-contact sport, and is played with no pads save shin guards. The ball is shaped like a football, but larger, and with more rounded ends. The field is 100 meters long, with 22-meter end zones, added on each end. There is no forward pass allowed, and the running game is key.

Touchdowns- where you must actually, intentionally, touch the ball to the ground- are worth five points, and the extra point, worth two points, is kicked through the goal posts 22 meters directly behind where you score the touchdown. Teams consist of either 12 or 15 players, depending on if it is a league, or a union, which is what the Knox team would play in. Probably the most recognizable aspect of rugby is the scrummage, or scrum, in which at least five players of each team gather around the ball, in an effort to take it from the other team. It is much like a jump ball in basketball, though on the ground, and much more physical, with the players locking arms in an effort to form a wall of bodies to force the other team away from the ball.

“When we got here, we were actually shocked that the school didn’t have a team,” said freshman Helen Schnoes. “It was a real negative for us.”

Schnoes and freshman Hannah McMahon had played together in high school, and after reconnecting at Knox, got started putting the idea into motion.

“We met with [Dean] Xavier Romano and he was very supportive,” said McMahon. “We were all set to get the whole thing started ourselves, a lot of the teams around here do that, and then Meg Ryan, who works in admissions, came to us and told us she was very interested in being our coach.”

In addition to Ryan as coach, the team also has the help of Casey Gatz, another admissions counselor, who helps with fitness training. In coming to a place with no experience in rugby, the two girls were nonetheless ready to train anyone who needed help.

“In high school, we had somebody join the team every year that was completely uninformed about rugby,” said McMahon. “This helped us out a lot for when we started up here, since nobody really knew anything about rugby.”

The team will play scrimmages this season, in an effort to gain experience on the collegiate level, as well as to spread the name around. Though the game is normally recognized as being played by men, as McMahon said, “We play it less brutally, with more finesse.”

Even though the team won’t be able to play any games at home in the near future, support is wanted. The team is only for girls, though if any guys want to practice with them, they would relish the idea.

“We want to be around for more than just our four years here,” said Schnoes. “Building the culture of rugby on the campus is important. Even though we don’t want men on the team, they could form their own if they wanted.”

The two styles are markedly different, so a large blending would be impossible.

“We wouldn’t be able to compete very well against a men’s team, “said Schnoes. “There is a much more football like aspect to the way they play it, and people like me or Hannah would get broken.”

Unlike most sports, where there is a build needed to play, the girls were quick to point out that the way rugby is played, there is a place for anyone, regardless of size or shape.

“We’re out here to have a good time,” said Schnoes. “It’s a great sport, with a lot of camaraderie, both in the team and between teams.”

As a minority in the college pantheon of sports, the teams have to have a strong bond with other schools, which is why they are trying to forge such strong ties with other schools.

“We’ve looked at other schools around with programs, as well as further east and west,” said McMahon. “When we do actually join a conference, it would be the Midwest Rugby Union.”

They have a lot of enthusiasm, and from the looks of it, a lot of support, and all that remains to be seen is how the school takes it on. As McMahon said, “Play Rugby!”

Merritt Rohlfing

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