Rugby in the blood: Women's rugby club recaps successful season

In a quick interteam scrimmage on Oct. 8, 2011, second-year member of the Fairbanks Women's Rugby Club Nianna Rice (right, foreground) dodges a touch from teammate Kayla Chardon (left), and races toward another team point. Erin Mcgroarty/Sun Star

In a quick interteam scrimmage on Oct. 8, 2011, second-year member of the Fairbanks Women's Rugby Club Nianna Rice (right, foreground) dodges a touch from teammate Kayla Chardon (left), and races toward another team point. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 11, 2011

“Rugby is like an addiction,” UAF women’s rugby coach Mike Allison said as he sat back in his chair and smiled. “Once it gets in your blood, you’re stuck with it.”

The UAF Women’s Rugby Club started in 2009. Ruth Osborne is among the few current members who were there when the team began.

“There was a men’s team that our original coach, Anthony Aholelei, was playing on, and the girls wanted a  team as well, so we just made one,” Osborne said. “It might have gotten off to a slow start, but it picked up really fast and got to be really popular. The nice thing was that the team didn’t require previous experience. I had no idea how to play rugby before I joined, but now I love it.”

Although women’s rugby is a newly established student organization, it has been successful in recruiting. This year’s team contained approximately 25 women on and off. There are 14 players listed on this year’s roster who show up week-to-week.

Although there is a regular group of women who make up the team, “it’s important to get new blood into the game. We recruit all season, because there is nothing better than new experience and variety on the team,” Allison said.

This is Allison’s first year coaching the Fairbanks women’s team. Prior to living in Fairbanks, Allison spent eight years coaching high school rugby teams in Denver, Colo. and Salt Lake City, Utah. He also coached a myriad of men’s teams, also in Utah, before moving up to Alaska and spending a number of years coaching military rugby teams around the state.

Rugby is quite popular in the Lower 48, Allison said. This team has been a hit in the Fairbanks community where there was previously little opportunity for organized women’s rugby. It has been especially popular with military transfers in Fairbanks, as well as with the UAF students who have come in from out of state.

The Fairbanks Women’s Rugby Club may not be an official UAF intercollegiate sport, but that does not change the team’s dedication. During full season, the team practices at least twice a week, Allison said, and more often if there is a big tournament in the near future. The team practices Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the field in front of the Student Recreation Center (SRC). There are about two games a month, and the team usually has to travel to get to them.

“There really aren’t any other teams in the Fairbanks area,” team captain Laura Robinson said. “So anytime we want to play another team, we have to travel there or they travel here. Either way, there’s a lot of traveling involved in each season.”

However, when the team does have a tournament, they make the most of it. During each out-of-town or state tournament, the team plays up to four games in one day.

“It’s fairly strenuous,” Allison said, “but my players are really devoted and they just keep going. I mean, there are subs during the game, of course. It’s important for everyone to have game time. You don’t learn the game unless you’re out there on the field.”

The team competed in a number of different tournaments this year, both in state and out. These competitions ranged from a single game to a weekend-long tournament. This year, the team traveled to Anchorage, Kenai, and the 2011 Maggot Fest in Missoula, Mont. The most successful game for the team and the highlight of this fall’s season was the Alaska State Championship in Anchorage, Allison said, despite its proximity to the team’s hometown.

“Yeah, I like to think we pretty well demolished the other team,” Allison said with a laugh, “I was really proud.”

The sport also has its downsides. Allison chuckled and leaned back in his chair as  he recalled his many rugby-related injuries.

“Yeah, I’ve had quite the past of injuries,” Allison said, “Broke my nose seven times, separated both shoulders, broke my hand and foot. I think the worst was when I bruised my kidneys. That hurt really bad, but I finished that game though. Once you get into the game, you can’t let it go. That’s just how it is.”

Although the official season is over, most of the team cannot wait until next spring to play, Allison said. They sometimes meet inside the SRC during the winter. He invites anyone to come and try it out, but warns that once you get hooked, there’s no going back.

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