Women’s rugby embarks on their first season

by Brock Borgeson, sports editor

On Feb. 21 in Mason City, Simpson College will be represented in another rugby game. But this time, it won’t be the men that are playing; the newly created Simpson women’s rugby team will be playing their first game as a new club.

Last year, a women’s rugby team was in the works of being created although it wasn’t until this year that the funding, leadership and administrative approval made women’s rugby an actuality.

“The discussion started last year,” said senior captain Mariah Young. “I came back from study abroad in London and wanted to get a team started although some things fell through on the business side.”

Between last year and this year, the Simpson cabinet approved of funding for the women’s rugby program as head coach Kelsie McDowell was tracked down through the Iowa Youth Rugby Organization.

“Rugby is a bit different than another club because it was proposed through the cabinet and has to be approved by the president,” assistant director of student activities, Nicole Darling said. “All financials run through me since it falls under intramurals. Each coach is paid and the team has their own funds to pay for tournaments and fundraising.”

McDowell is a University of Northern Iowa graduate and ex-rugby player during and after her time in Cedar Falls. McDowell has a rich background in the sport, playing as a starter for much of her time in college, leading the Panthers to as far as the Elite 8. 

For McDowell, rugby instantly became a passion, one that created a lasting bond between she and her teammates. This is something she believes can be and wants to impart on her players at Simpson.

“It’s one of those sports that you kind of fall in love with,” McDowell said. “It’s a sport in which your teammates are your family, and part of the reason for that is that it’s the first full-on contact sport for women and you have to trust your teammates. Ever since my first year I’ve really just wanted to continue growing the sport.”

So far, the women at Simpson have been showing interest, with anywhere from 10-15 women showing up for practices throughout the week.

Because it’s a club sport, numbers vary throughout the week as does the opportunity for gym space as the team has been battling with basketball, track, tennis and even baseball for practice time in the past few weeks.

During the first few weeks of practice, players have been adjusting, not only looking to improve but learn the game.

“You don’t have to be good at first because almost everyone is new to the game, just come out and learn the game.” sophomore softball and rugby team member Alex Curley said. “It’s fun and exciting, with nonstop action and a lot of running, but running that’s with a purpose as you get to hit people.”

While rugby is a contact sport, those involved in the sport want to get the word out in hopes of avoiding the stigma that the sport is brutish, putting participants at a high risk of injury.

Doing so will hopefully increase involvement in the rugby team’s eyes.

“It’s important to note that rugby is statistically more safe than other American contact sports like soccer and football,” Young said. “Since you don’t have pads or a helmet you have to be smarter with your tackling as the referees are stricter with tackling form. You first have to learn tackling technique and then it becomes second nature.”

The players have been going through this technique in practice as they are gearing up for six tournaments this season, including their opener in Mason City on Feb. 21, a tournament in Wayne, Neb. on March 14, a home match on March 23 and again in Wayne for the national qualifying tournament on March 27 amongst others.

Simpson will play teams such as Wayne State University, Augustana College (S.D.) and Iowa State University.

During the matches, teams play two seven-minute halves. Unique to rugby, fields are not configured in a uniform fashion from school to school.

While records and standings will be kept, the team will be focused on creating a larger league composed of schools of similar size.

“Right now we are wanting to build a league so we’ll have more competition from private schools,” McDowell said.

McDowell, who also heads the women’s rugby program at Southeast Polk High school, and two time state-runner up, hopes coordination from coaches in the area will help fuel this growth.

Undoubtedly though, McDowell’s connection with Southeast Polk and Simpson will help fuel the growth of the women’s rugby program at Simpson as they look to establish themselves and possibly reach nationals as did the men’s team in its inaugural year.