The women’s rugby team took to the pitch for their alumni game this past weekend on Saturday, Oct. 22, the alumni winning 0-54. It was one of many homecoming games over the course of the weekend that celebrated the Eagle community.
The alumni game is a valuable experience for everyone involved. Although the final score can seem surprising, winning the game is not the primary goal for the UMW women, and history has shown that the alumni should usually be favored in the match.
“The alumni matches started in 2005, with Oct. 22 actually being the 17th anniversary of the 2005 match,” said Head Coach Kris Kabza. “The alumni have won every match, with one exception, in 2008 the current team beat the alumni 66-0.”
According to senior business administration major Taylor Newsome, “[the alumni] are trying to help us get better, they’re here to have fun and they always win, so we know going into it it’s going to be a game we get beat.”
Newsome continued, “A lot of them continued playing [after graduation] and went to a higher level than we have here. So the focus is typically on learning from the alumni and the tradition of rugby at the school being shared and passed down from older players.”
Despite the score, those at the game saw a powerful physical contest between players and teams. While many people in this community do not know the complex and subtle rules of rugby, the strength and will required to move the ball across the pitch is evident, as players were yelling, tackling and creating paths for teammates.
Although the match was quite a physical one, Newsome mentioned that her main focus for Saturday, as with many players, was “not to try and overexert myself and get hurt.” Since the alumni game is a good learning experience, Newsome said, “we’ll usually put people in different positions, so it’s just kind of having fun playing around to see what works and what’s not working.”
For sophomore neuroscience major Merna Moussa, the alumni game was her first match.
“We got to practice a little bit on the field and practice on the alumni,” she said. “They were all really sweet and they helped me practice a little bit more before scrumming because I hadn’t done that in a little bit. So it was all really supportive.”
The team-sport status allows players of a wide range of experience levels to practice and form a team together, which creates a lot of diversity in style and strategy that is often not seen in varsity sports
“I really just wanted to get in the game and try to make it throughout the whole thing because I know it can be a lot … doing the drills and screaming and getting tackled, it can wear down on you,” said Mousa.
Indeed, rugby is an extremely physical and grueling sport, and spectators were reminded of this when an alumna suffered a leg injury during a play and had to leave the game in an ambulance.
“It’s a physical game—it’s going to happen eventually,” said junior economics and political science major Logan Rowland. “Nobody wanted to hurt her, it was just an accident.”
Despite the injury, many alumni enjoyed returning to the school they played for to compete alongside the current Eagles. 2018 alumna Sydney Casey, cited the energy and experience as her reasons for returning this past weekend.
“When you’re on a pitch and you’re playing with people you used to play with, it instantly comes back,” said Casey. “Your instincts about playing with these people.”
Casey now plays on the women’s Rappahannock Rugby team, but she’ll always have a soft spot for UMW.
“I’m a little bit more mama-ish to the new girls,” she said. “I was playing with the current team and one of the girls didn’t know how to play inside and outside, so I just teaching her how to be like ‘hey, if we have this call, this is how it goes; make sure you follow me and everything like that,’ because they’ve never been in a position like that.”
There is a strong sense of community among the women’s team, which has helped their squad grow and bring in new players who don’t have any previous experience playing rugby.
“Our primary goal is just to try to keep recruiting and to make it an enjoyable experience for all our players,” Kabza said of the program.
“I signed up at club fair,” said freshman pre-med biology major Noelle Stewart. “The team is just really loving and it’s a new experience.”
For this weekend’s game, Stewart said the message was just to “get out there and have a good time, to do your best.”
Many players have individual goals, though, such as Mousa, who is focusing on tackling. Rowland emphasized that the goal is “always just to improve. We have a lot of rookies this year and I’ve been incredibly impressed with how they play and how fast they’ve been picking up the game. … We want to work better as a team and be more cohesive.”
The Eagles will have several more opportunities to build team chemistry and see individual players improve. They will next be in action this Saturday, Oct. 29 at William and Mary before finishing out their season with two November contests.