A team that exists slightly under the radar, Cornell’s women’s rugby team is something to talk about.
In many ways, this is not your conventional rugby team. For starters, there are 16 seniors on the team this year. This is an unusually large number — generally the team has about three or four. Such a large number of seniors has added spirit to the team.
“I feel like this has really helped the team moral. We have been playing together for four years. We have always had good chemistry, but it’s particularly good this year. We just have a lot of fun on and off the field,” said senior captain Christine Sargent.
Junior Talia Baker, the team’s other captain, feels that chemistry too, from playing with the senior class since the fall of her freshman year. She realizes that this not only makes the game more fun, but also has a positive impact on the team.
“Our team has worked together for so long. It’s so much fun playing with them. We don’t even have to communicate much; we’re on the same page and we know what we have to do. The flow and communicate is so good right now, its actually amazing,” Baker said.
So far, this has produced strong results. The team is undefeated with a 3-0 record and is No. 1 in New York State. Although they have been undefeated in the past and have won the New York State Premiere Championship 10 times, as recently as 2007, the team has not won it in the past two years.
This year, winning is certainly a goal. The team’s president, senior Allison Baker, knows that this is their time.
“It’s really important to us to go out and win the state championship because, for a lot of us, it’s our last chance,” she said.
But the team’s ambitions do not end there.
“Our goal is to be undefeated and to go to nationals, ultimately. We’re doing a lot of fitness and practice to make that happen,” Sargent said.
The team is well on its way so far. Baker recalls that a particularly memorable game was the Sept. 25 game at Buffalo, where the Red won, 26-5.
“We lost two years ago in the state championship to Buffalo so we really wanted to do well,” Allison Baker said. “26-5 in rugby is a pretty big score — we came out and did what we needed to do. Our offense came out strong and our backs had a great game. The forwards and backs really worked together and we really executed. If we can play like we did in the Buffalo game we should be set to win the New York state [title].”
Another testament to the team’s success so far is that it has not had a coach for the past two years. This puts more pressure on the players to hold the team together.
“Not having a coach has definitely been pretty difficult. It puts a lot of responsibility on the leaders of the team, the seniors and the captains. The captains have to act as teammates, captains, friends and coaches. It’s been difficult but its definitely been rewarding and a lot of fun. It’s working so far,” Sargent said.
Allison Baker had especially positive feelings towards the captains’ roles in keeping the team together.
“The past two years, the captains have been running the show. The captains do all the work; I just come in to support them. They are really the two leaders of the team,” she said.
Part of being a captain is looking towards the future of the team. This is especially true for Talia Baker, who will still be around next year.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to compensate for the loss that we’re getting,” she said. “Losing 16 key people that are always there and supportive is going to be tough, but it’s also giving our younger players the opportunity to step up. Lately we have been incorporating more of our rookies and younger players into our A-team to see what its like playing at that level and to get used to it.”
This level of dedication to the game is especially commendable because the women’s rugby team is a club sport, not a varsity one. This can prove to be another obstacle to success. Being a club sport means that there are no paid coaches, less strict rules and less funding.
“One of our biggest challenges is that we’re a club team,” Talia Baker said. “We can’t force people to come to practice; we don’t have super strict rules on that. It can be hard to get people motivated to come to practice even though its only three times a week. You still go to Cornell, and have work and prelims. Finding the balance is really difficult. Our goal to get to nationals has really put us on the right foot. That’s why we’re 3-0 –– because our mindset is to go to California and play really good rugby teams.”
That being said, competing at the club level has its advantages as well.
“We get to have more fun and fool around while still being a great club,” Baker added. “The personal commitment you make to the team is even more than a varsity sport because we don’t get things handed to us like they do. We carpool to our away games. If we want team sweatshirts, we have to fork out the money. It’s all of us making the commitment to the team because we don’t have those privileges. It’s a challenge but because we love the game so much it doesn’t really matter that we aren’t a varsity sport.”
Original Author: Dani Abada