Courtesy of Cornell University Women's Rugby

The women's rugby team advanced to nationals after winning the Upstate New York Seven's tournament.

April 16, 2023

Women’s Rugby Team Advances to National and Ivy Championships

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After dominating in the Upstate New York Sevens division one tournament, the women’s rugby team will compete in the National Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament in Washington, D.C. on April 28 and 29.

Rugby is a full contact sport that originated in the United Kingdom and involves passing a ball either sideways or backwards between teammates. The team that scores the most points wins the match.

Points can be scored in two ways — tries and conversions. Tries are where the player touches the ball in the “try zone,” which is at the end of the field, and are worth five points. Conversions are when a player kicks the ball through the goalpost and are worth two points. 

At the qualifying tournament at St. Bonaventure University, Cornell played against Kent University, Syracuse University, University of Pittsburgh and Colgate University. With each game lasting only 14 minutes, sevens rugby — where there are seven players on the field — is a sprint.

“We had to win all [of the games] to get to our last and final game which was against Colgate, which is very exciting because we have a long-standing friendly rivalry,“ said team captain Tara McWilliams ’25. “To beat them in that final game was a nice way to leave that tournament and qualify for nationals because we had been practicing for so long.”

According to Aleks Marcinkowski ’25, this will be the women’s rugby team’s first time competing at nationals.

“We’ll be playing against Colgate and Pitt again, which is exciting [because] we know our competition going into that,” McWilliams said. “For other schools, such as Wisconsin and Clemson which are also division one clubs, we have to plan a little bit more and watch their game film to analyze their plays.”

The weekend before nationals, the team will be competing at the Ivy Sevens Tournament at Dartmouth College where they will compete against the other Ivy League women’s rugby teams.

“We’ve definitely upped the intensity during practices in these weeks leading up,” Marcinkowski said. “Both of those weekends [we will play a] very high intensity and caliber of teams.” 

Captain Zulaikha Jaffery ’26 expressed excitement about the upcoming tournament.

“It’ll be my first time going to Ivies, which I think will be like a great experience for my personal player growth, along with sending all of our seniors off and having one last time where we can all play together,” Jaffery said. “It’ll definitely be worth it. [I’m] very excited.”

Now that the team has made nationals, McWilliams expressed a hope that the school will recognize them as a quasi-varsity team, rather than a club team. This would help the team gain access to resources for travel, recruitment, field privileges and more.

“We’ve been working towards a higher level of play in our club, eventually to reach some sort of quasi-varsity status. That has been our ever standing goal this whole entire academic year.” McWilliams said. “We just want to prove ourselves and say that we are a serious sport. We do qualify at higher levels of play.”

McWilliams noted that rugby is the fastest growing sport in America and the team is looking to expand. They welcome members regardless of past rugby experience.

“Our team [is] such a good community” Marcinkowski said. “The sport of rugby brings out such unique and interesting people.”

Elizabeth Gardner is a Sun Staff Writer and can be reached at [email protected].