Head coach Tom Waqa said the 2016 season was a big step for the team and the programDespite BYU women’s rugby’s championship game loss to Penn State.
“We wanted to go out as a champion, but I believe that we had a successful season,” Waqa said. “We had a good bunch of girls who played to the end and fought hard for their families and for their school, and I’m proud of them.”
Making it to the national championship was no easy task. Most extramural sport teams consist of players that are offered scholarships, but BYU women’s rugby does not follow this trend. They take a more unconventional path.
The women’s rugby team invites players to try out for the team. Players with previous experience go throughout campus and advertise their sport. They encourage students to try out and inform them that the majority of players did not have prior experience playing rugby.
“We invite students from campus to come and tryout,” Waqa said. “We find athletes that can potentially be good rugby players from campus. We don’t have scholarships to give.”
Waqa described it as a “challenging process” to compete head-to-head with programs that have scholarships to offer.
The Cougars go into next season without some of their leadership and key players from this year. Captains Jessie Beck and Jordan Gray are both seniors. Beck, Gray and fellow senior Nicole McCullough played their final game for BYU on Saturday in their loss to Penn State.
“Jordan Gray has been the anchor for the program for a number of years,” Waqa said. “Also, Jessie Beck brings a lot to the team; we’ll also miss scrumhalf Nicole McCullough, one of the top scrumhalves in the nation.”
Gray said the season was special, even with the disappointing loss last weekend.
“We are more than just a team, we’re a family,” Gray said. “That really shows on the field, we just work for each other and we never get mad at each other on the field.”
Beck highlighted the playoff win against Central Washington as a moment she’d never forget.
“I knew going into that game that we could win,” Beck said. “I was so pumped for our team to play and winning that game was just so sweet, especially for all of the seniors who have worked so hard to get this team to where it’s at today.”
Beck said it was a “blessing” to be coached by Waqa and see the program flourish under him.
But Waqa isn’t done yet and is already looking forward to next season.
“We took a step further this year, which is very positive,” Waqa said. “We’ll build on it next year.”