Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of the Big Red Sports Network, which provides excellent Cornell sports coverage throughout the year for alumni, parents, students and fans everywhere.
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If you look at Cornell’s hockey team, you’re very unlikely to find a player who wasn’t playing hockey at the age of about six. Almost every Big Red athlete has had a wealth of experience in their respective sport, with many even coming in as top-rated recruits.
That’s not the case for the Cornell Women’s Rugby Football Club. According to co-captains Elizabeth Creter ’16 and Bekah Fay ’16, virtually every member of the team was new to playing rugby before arriving in Ithaca. Both Creter and Fay, who played sports such as softball and soccer while in high school, were drawn to the rugby team at clubfest their freshman year, but have quickly grown to love the sport as if they had been playing their whole lives.
Once seen as purely a ‘gentlemen’s game’, rugby is now played by almost two million girls worldwide, and is one of the fastest growing team sports in the world.
Even though Cornell women’s rugby can trace its roots back to the 1960s, they are a newcomer to Ivy League competition.
After years of dominating the New York State-based Empire League, the team moved to a full Ivy schedule in 2012. The move allowed them to play some of the top rugby talent in the country, with Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown currently competing on the NCAA level (with Princeton about to make the transition).
Talent at Cornell
However, despite playing against better talent, the team has been able to find success this season. Despite losing what Creter called “a very large and talented senior class”, a big freshmen class and continued development of the upperclassmen allowed them to notch some key wins. They started off the season by pummeling Columbia and Yale by a combined score of 52-5, and beating Columbia again in the first round of the Ivy League Championships in November. They then fell to tournament host and longtime rival Dartmouth in the next round, in a snow-filled game where the team was forced to play with an injury-depleted roster.
They have so far followed their success in the fall with a very strong spring season. After being forced to spend almost the entire winter training indoors, they dominated the competition in the annual Four Leaf 15s Tournament at New York City’s Randall’s Island, gaining a first place finish. They repeated their performance a few weeks later in the Ruck Rochester Tournament. Dressed as Vikings, they toughed out hard-earned 3-0 and 5-3 wins over Hamilton College and SUNY Plattsburgh respectively, to take first place.
What’s been impressive about this team’s success is that they have done so on a very limited budget. They practice three times a week on a rugby pitch near the Oxley Equestrian Center, with very few facilities of their own. This pales in comparison to some of their Ivy competitors who have varsity funding and their own facilities and even weight rooms. Like many club teams on campus, the women’s rugby team must scrounge for indoor playing space during the offseason, as they do mostly weight training in Barton when it’s too cold to play outside. They raise money through many fundraisers throughout the year, including phonathons and benefit concerts.
However, what the team lacks in funds and experience, they more than make up for with their intensity and passion for the game.
Creter and Fay said the team has a reputation in the Ivy League of being one of the hardest-hitting and most physical teams, even when they don’t have the most size. And in true Cornell spirit, they are also known for being a very relentless and hard-working team, and one that will accept any challenges on the pitch for a full 80 minutes. This is seen in their ability to win scrums (the ‘line of scrimmage’ of rugby, where two teams bind together in a circle to gain possession of the ball to start play), the team’s biggest strength, even if they are at a size disadvantage.
But even with the team’s intensity, they always make sure they have fun. Twice a year, they have “prom dress games” where the team plays in full dresses, usually from the Salvation Army. They play one on-campus against each other in the snow called “vintage formal” and then one vs. another school, usually Hamilton College. The team itself is a very tight-knit group, which Fey said is what helps them retain many of the players.
Above all, the team’s passion for rugby is what stands out. When asked to describe the sport to someone who had never seen it, Creter said, “it’s a fast-paced, fun game to watch. It’s also exciting to see people hit each other!”
She also added that people should come out to support the team, not only to see them “pour their souls into the game, but also because also what do you have to lose, it’s free!”