“I believe I broke my nostril,” a participant calls out as she walks into the locker room earlier than a Monday night time observe.
“Once more?” a teammate replies with amusing.
The room erupts in straightforward chatter, asking if she’s nonetheless coming to observe (sure, she is) and whether or not she’s going to get it checked out (sure, she’s going to). As the remainder of at the moment’s crew trickles in, the comfortable room warms. Pulling mud-caked cleats out of backpacks, the group regularly information out to heat up.
The ladies belong to Stanford Rugby, a membership sport round 80 gamers sturdy between the boys’s and girls’s groups. Regardless of the game’s relative obscurity within the U.S., Stanford’s rugby program has lengthy been residence to a tight-knit, aggressive group of athletes.
Stanford performs Rugby Union, the type of play favored by the U.S., whereby two groups of seven or 15 gamers kick, carry and move an rectangular ball throughout the sector. Not like its cousin, American soccer, the ball can solely be handed backward, and play doesn’t cease when the ball-carrier is tackled, resulting in a bodily, fast-paced sport.
The membership operates on a mix of an endowment fund, alumni donations, fundraising and scholar dues. A $1 million donation by alum Hal Steuber ’62 AB MBA ’64 in 2003 constructed Steuber Rugby Subject, a 130-by-70-meter grass expanse on East Campus. The donation made Stanford one among few American universities with a chosen year-round rugby discipline; but, in a sport that rosters 23 athletes every sport, it’s nonetheless as much as the group to fill it.
Rugby folks… they’re very persuasive
Unable to recruit potential college students like a varsity sport, the membership embarks on a rigorous recruitment marketing campaign every fall.
Sophomore Vanessa Onuoha ’25 has been on the group since her freshman 12 months, when she noticed the membership tabling on the actions truthful. Her mother performed rugby in faculty, so she determined to test it out.
“I’ll come to 1 observe simply so I can inform my mother that I went,” Ohuoha mentioned. “And I used to be like, ‘Wait, that was sort of enjoyable. I sort of like that. Perhaps I ought to go to a different observe.’ After which one other observe was the entire season, shopping for cleats and becoming a member of the group.”
Madison Quig ’23 additionally joined after seeing the membership tabling her freshman 12 months. “Rugby folks — they’re very persuasive,” mentioned Quig. “You’re like, ‘Properly, I’ll simply attempt it out,’ you already know? And then you definitely get hooked.”
Every customer is inspired to attend two practices earlier than deciding whether or not rugby is for them. To these unaccustomed to the fast-paced, advanced sport, a primary observe may be daunting. However the group is used to recognizing potential.
“We attempt to do a great job of retaining individuals who come to observe and who we’re like, ‘I really feel like we are able to see this for you,’ and be like, ‘You’re gonna take pleasure in it, like, you’re a bit scared, however you’re gonna like this,’” mentioned Onuoha.
The group can be accustomed to taking up new gamers from totally different athletic backgrounds.
“Particularly on the seven-a-side sport, the place there’s a bit bit extra space and time, should you come from that, like, monitor, soccer, basketball background, you’ll be able to actually excel shortly,” mentioned head coach Richard Ashfield. Along with main each the boys’s and girls’s group, Ashfield coaches for the USA Rugby Ladies’s Nationwide Workforce in the summertime.
Rugby is for everyone
Much like American soccer, there’s a large spectrum of talent units and physique sorts wanted on a rugby group.
“We’d like these six-foot, huge folks, after which we want small, quick folks,” Ashfield mentioned. “We wish all sizes and styles, and the extra totally different experiences that may be introduced on and off the sector, the extra priceless we’re as a group.”
Onuoha grew up taking dance, and says that the “tradition round physique picture” in rugby is “fully totally different.”
“I believe rugby has been actually good for my self-image and my relationship with my physique in that method,” mentioned Onuoha.
The group can be host to an “worldwide diaspora,” mentioned Tom Adamo ’25.
“Each single individual I do know who performs on the rugby group both joined as a freshman or is a global scholar who grew up with it,” mentioned Adamo, who hails from England. “It was good for me to seek out that little area of interest of worldwide college students enjoying a sport that’s not huge within the U.S.”
The teaching workers additionally brings “totally different views” from world wide, mentioned Moe Khalil ’23. Ashfield is from Northern Eire, and former head coach Josh Sutcliffe has performed for Australia and The Philippines.
A historical past of excellence
Although a lot of their gamers started the game in faculty, the groups are aggressive amongst their friends, which embody varsity applications. The ladies’s group received the PAC-12 Rugby Sevens Championship in November, and beat Cal on March 17 to shut out an undefeated common season.
In response to Ashfield, the ladies will proceed enjoying Fifteens this Spring, with their eye on the nationwide championship, whereas the boys will swap again to the Sevens sport, the place the smaller, quick group has “a shot of going to nationals” as effectively.
The Stanford program has a “lengthy historical past of excellence,” mentioned Ashfield. Stanford Rugby alumni dominated the rosters of the gold-medal-winning 1920 and 1924 Olympic groups, earlier than the game was pulled from the Video games.
When rugby was reintroduced on the 2016 Olympics, this time with the seven-a-side sport, Stanford Ladies’s Rugby alumna Victoria “Vix” Folayan ’06 was a member of the U.S. group.
Large Recreation Blip
Within the early 1900’s, Large Recreation was changed by a rugby match after a string of deadly accidents in faculty soccer. In 1919, favor returned to soccer, and the game stepped again in because the official Large Recreation.
Males’s Rugby remained a varsity sport till the 70’s, when this system was transformed to a membership sport. In 1977, the ladies’s group emerged alongside it.
Amongst this very first ladies’s rugby group in 1976 was Sally Journey ’73, MS ’75, PhD ’78, the primary American lady in area. Actually, as many gamers will excitedly let you know, the group has produced two astronauts: Journey and Jessica Watkins ’10, who returned from a 170-day mission on the Worldwide Area Station in October of 2022.
Sure, it’s a contact sport
Whereas the occasional concussion, sprain, break and tear is par for the course for any athlete, rugby gamers might be fast to let you know the relative security of rugby in comparison with soccer.
“A lot much less individuals are getting tackled per play,” mentioned Sephora Rupert, a first-year Ph.D. candidate. In rugby, solely the athlete carrying the ball may be tackled.
“Sure, it’s a contact sport,” Ashfield mentioned. “We’re very cautious.”
The group retains an athletic coach on-site for video games and get in touch with practices, and gamers observe strict restoration pointers.
Greater than a sport
Even when they will’t compete on the sector, injured college students have a house at Stanford Rugby. A $1 million donation by John Doyle ’56 MS ’59 in 2003 constructed the John Doyle Rugby Clubhouse, a two-story constructing hovering above the sector and its modest, concrete stands. The clubhouse has the lived-in really feel of a preferred scholar hangout, with a sofa, a TV and a long time of trophies lining the partitions.
“This can be a area that we would like them to make use of and really feel like they will come when they should get away from the principle campus,” Ashfield mentioned. “There’s all the time an open-door coverage.”
Regardless of the space from fundamental campus, the clubhouse is frequently host to finding out, socializing and the occasional group sleepover.
Opposite to what some may anticipate, Stanford’s program is glad to be a membership group.
“We’ve created quite a lot of nice rugby gamers, and most of them, you’ll hear coaches say, began enjoying rugby at Stanford,” Quig mentioned. “That’s one thing that I don’t assume would occur if it was a varsity sport.”
The group dedicates observe time to educating the fundamentals of the game to newcomers, whereas a welcoming ambiance and a versatile, three-practice-per-week schedule permits a various group to stay round.
“We don’t have that expectation that you just should be at every part on a regular basis. It’s simply not practical at Stanford; we all know that,” Ashfield mentioned. “Now we have some gamers that may solely come as soon as every week, and we’re like, ‘That’s high quality.’”
“Right here, it’s like, we’re full folks and everybody acknowledges that,” mentioned Elly McKay ’25, who joined membership rugby after leaving the varsity rowing group. Whereas the monetary sources of varsity are a pleasant perk, she thinks that the membership sport’s flexibility strengthens the group’s perspective.
“Everyone seems to be all the time making a aware effort to purchase into the group each day that they arrive, as a result of there’s all the time an possibility to not,” McKay mentioned.
Apply is stuffed with smiles, encouragement and playful teasing amongst teammates. Over a two-hour observe, college students are led by a handful of workout routines, together with a warmup of sharks and minnows, sprints and some offensive and defensive drills.
At present, the women and men observe collectively, separating solely as soon as to run totally different drills. Ashfield refers to Stanford Rugby as “one membership with two groups,” and their practices usually overlap.
“The lads study from the ladies, the ladies study from the boys,” Oliver Sibal ’24 mentioned. On the current ladies’s sport in opposition to Cal, the boys’s group remodeled right into a full of life cheering part, storming the sector to carry out an impromptu sport of contact.
“There’s all the time quite a lot of laughter,” mentioned Tom Pulliam J.D. ’69, who frequently attends practices to offer tricks to the gamers. Pulliam, who performed on the group throughout his time at Stanford Legislation College, attributes the group’s constant good perspective to the teaching workers, who hold the game enjoyable.
What retains him coming again after greater than fifty years? “The sport and the folks. It’s easy.”