BYU women’s rugby: no experience necessary

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BYU women’s rugby team listens to instruction during practice in the IPF. The Cougars recently formed their new team after open tryouts in January. (Natalie Bothwell)

The BYU women’s rugby team plays with same dominance characterized by the majority of Cougar sports teams. But unlike tryouts in other sports, no previous playing experience is necessary for making of the team.

Returning rugby players stood in the Wilkinson Student Center and around campus energetically advertising the team prior to tryouts. They emphasized that most of the team had joined without ever playing before; despite that, the team has attended nationals the last four years in a row, placing second last year.

“Five years ago, I saw a flyer for rugby in the freshman dorms and it intrigued me,” said senior captain Jessie Beck. “I knew that I was athletic, so I came to practice and tried out. I fell in love with it.”

Freshman Noelle King had no experience before trying out this season. Her dad, however, loved rugby and suggested she try out.

“I had played soccer and tennis, but I had never played rugby before,” King said. “I was so scared in the tryouts, but it was very new-girl friendly and they approached it as though we knew nothing. We built off what we learned each day and that helped me feel comfortable.”

The coaches anticipate inexperienced players to try out and they gear the trials toward beginners. Head coach Tom Waqa said they emphasized the basics by teaching passing and running simple drills.

“I love the enthusiasm that comes from the new girls coming to learn a new sport,” Waqa said. “There’s a different vibe with our girls trying the sport for the first time so you can feel the excitement and the enthusiasm.”

Beck said the team is used to the turnover and the learning curve of the new players.

“Sometimes lack of experience has hindered us,” Beck said. “But it’s been good. We recruit people, we teach them how to hit, how to pass and I learn something new every semester.”

Beck noted that this is common for women’s rugby across the country. However, as women’s rugby continues to grow in popularity, the experience necessary to play on the collegiate level will inevitably increase.

Jordan Gray, also a team captain for the Cougars, has been playing rugby since high school. She said she anticipates more girls will start playing at a younger age and that this will increase the competition in college.

Gray also said there are still many BYU students who are unaware there is a women’s rugby team.

“When people find out I play rugby they ask, ‘Oh, is that like football?'” Gray said. “But it’s nothing like football. I think they’re surprised I play too because they perceive it as a men’s sport.”

The team hopes that, with rugby being recognized in October as an official extramural sport on campus, awareness and popularity will increase for the sport will increase.

“We will be such a better team come April because we can practice in the IPF now instead of making it work at Kiwanis Park,” Beck said. “I’m grateful that we’re sanctioned now. I feel like a lot more people will become more aware of our team and will come out and support us. We’re really fun to watch.”