BYU women’s rugby preparing for national championship

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From left: Assistant coach Kayla Richardson and head coach Tom Waqa at a team practice. The Cougars will take on Penn State for the national championship on May 7. (Natalie Saunders)
From left: Assistant coach Kayla Richardson and head coach Tom Waqa at a team practice. The Cougars will take on Penn State at the national championship on May 7. (Natalie Saunders)

The BYU women’s rugby team will face Penn State in the national title game on May 7 in Moraga, California.

This is the first time that BYU women’s rugby will be playing in the national title game.

The Cougars are coached by Tom Waqa. Waqa has been at the helm since 2004 and helped turn BYU into one of the nation’s strongest women’s rugby programs.

“We are excited to represent BYU, ” Waqa said in an email. “It means a lot to us as a rugby program, and to be competing for the first time, in our inaugural year as an official Extramural Sport, is something special. It’s an honor to represent BYU this way. We are excited about this opportunity.”

Team captains Jessie Beck and Jordan Gray, both seniors, have been instrumental in leading the team to the national title game. Beck said the transition from unsanctioned sport to national title contenders has been a memorable one.

“There have been so many unique parts of this season, because it’s been our first season being sanctioned,” Beck said. “One of my favorite parts was stepping on South Field for the first time wearing our jersey. I’ve been looking forward to that for over five years, and to have it become a reality was such an amazing thing.”

Beck and Gray, along with the rest of the team, are working on a specific game plan designed to slow down Penn State.

“We have a new structure that will help us better exploit their weaknesses, and we’ve just been practicing that new structure and also the basics of where to be, like our tackling, our offloading, our rucking, just to better prepare us for the strengths of Penn State,” Gray said.

The Cougars will rely on their intangibles along with their strategic game plan to defeat Penn State.

“(Penn State is) a very smart team, so we will have to not only have to be smart, but we’ll have to be physical, and we’ll have to do those with all of the heart that we have,” Beck said.

The women’s rugby team has another special reason for wanting to win the game on Saturday—one that connects it to Cougar alumni.

“We have these bracelets that all of the alumni still are wearing, and you can’t cut off this bracelet until we win a national championship, so it feels good to finally have the opportunity to even do that,” Gray said.

BYU women’s rugby is a close group that thrives from the leadership of its two captains and Waqa. Their leadership, along with the team’s resiliency and chemistry, have been key for them thus far.

In an email, Waqa said the most rewarding aspect of coaching at BYU is, “the enthusiasm, resilience, courage and strength of character that everyone on the roster brings to the table.”

“The players have worked so hard to be here in practice, and to see that coming to fruition on game day, especially in quarterfinal and semifinal wins against Stanford and Central Washington, was something special,” Waqa said. “I can’t wait to see two of the nation’s top women’s college rugby teams in action on May 7.”

Fans can follow the game on the USA Rugby TV and St. Mary’s College Athletics websites. The BYU women’s rugby Twitter account will also be providing live updates.

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