Shootin’ the boot with Women’s Club Rugby: the captains speak

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The Macalester Club Women’s Rugby team celebrates after facing off against Carleton College. Photo courtesy of Heidi Affi ’17.

Ethan Levin

In many sports you can get away with throwing an elbow, giving a shove or sticking out your foot to trip someone, but you are rarely allowed to grab someone and throw them to the ground. The Macalester Women’s Rugby team plays a sport that is an exception.

Rugby is a game much like football, just without the pads. You’re trying to get the ball into an end zone and score a “try” or touchdown. There is no set offense or defense at any time, just different phases of people trying to push the ball closer towards their goal. The biggest difference between rugby and football? You can’t throw the ball forward. To score, you have to move the ball using sheer physicality and will.

The Macalester Club Women’s Rugby team celebrates after facing off against Carleton College. Photo courtesy of Heidi Affi ’17.
]1 The Macalester Club Women’s Rugby team celebrates after facing off against Carleton College. Photo courtesy of Heidi Affi ’17.

I sat down with Macalester Women’s Rugby captains Kathleen Fitzgibbon ’17 and Heidi Affi ’17 to talk about rugby at Macalester, and came away itching to join the team. There are many benefits of playing, from the physical exercise to being part of the community, and all the great stories you accrue over a season. They also outlined the struggle of maintaining the club sport here at Macalester.

The first thing Fitzgibbon and Affi would like you to know is that rugby is a much safer sport than it seems. Concussions occur more often in volleyball or even ultimate frisbee. Safe tackling technique is strongly emphasized at practice. You learn how to be safe so that everyone can have fun.

The second thing they want you to know, and this is addressed to any potential rugby players, is that you are much stronger than you think you are. Often, there is a mental barrier for women when it comes to tackling at their first practice. Once you get past this, rugby will not only whip you into excellent physical shape, it will teach you an assertive and confident nature that can only be learned while throwing people to the ground.

Beyond that, the rugby community is tight- knit, and has extremely supportive members. There is a fun tradition in rugby in which both teams eat and drink together after every match. Affi and Fitzgibbon both have fond memories of going abroad their junior years and joining a rugby team. Anywhere you go, if you say you play rugby, you can find a community. This is no different at Macalester, where the women on the team, few as they are, consider each other family.

The atmosphere around women’s rugby is incredibly positive and supportive, but it is not always easy to sustain. Being a club sport at Macalester can be difficult at times, as club sports are considered subordinate to varsity teams. They are forced to practice on the field at Ramsey Middle School. They have no trainer to show up to their games, so if you get injured, you are out of luck.

Besides these issues, the team is in charge of its own fundraising. This year, they wrote hundreds of letters asking alumni for donations, licking every envelope individually. It is a struggle to stay afloat sometimes, but the women on the team work tirelessly to keep the team going.

Most importantly, the Macalester Women’s Rugby team likes to have fun. They give out “rugby nicknames” to each player. Affi knew Fitzgibbon only as Pirate for the first couple of weeks that she knew her. They “shoot the boot” and use all sorts of terms that only rugby players would understand. The most important thing now for the future of the team is attracting more members. There will be multiple seniors graduating from the team this year. The fall season is wrapping up in a few weeks, but the players participate in off-season lifting as a group, which is a great way to meet the team. After winter, there is a spring season as well. Practices are held every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at Ramsey Middle School for anyone interested. Everyone is encouraged to try out.