Virginia Women’s Rugby: State Champions

A sports article by Ning Tay

If you visit the AFC at night, you will see at least three members of the Virginia Women’s Rugby team there, guaranteed. Now that the season is over, off-season training has begun to keep everyone in shape. Coaches Nancy Kechner and Julie Comer sent out workout suggestions last week and even organised an off-season competition with a point system for possible exercises. It’s no wonder that the UVA Women’s Rugby team is so successful.

This season, the team played a total of 14 games and won them all except one. They lost to Penn State by one try, with a score of 15-10. “We did excellent this season. We worked hard, we were fit, and we only had one loss, against a team that plays national championships,” says Rachel “Recky” Winters, fall season captain. In fact, no team had scored against UVA until their 10th game.

The match they played with the largest point difference was against VCU, with a score of 110-0. The second largest was against Virginia Tech, with scores of 71-0 and 72-5. Even though their only loss was against Penn State, Winters feels that playing JMU was more mentally and emotionally challenging, “especially since we’re huge rivals.” Despite the pressure, UVA took them down with a score of 27-14. Later on in the season, there was definitely a rush of exhilaration when they won the state championships. All the sweat and blood that had been poured quite literally onto the field during practices that season had been worth it.

The UVA Women’s Rugby team has an impressive history. Not only have they been state champions for five consecutive years (and three more before that), they have made it to Division 1 Sweet Sixteens for the past nine years. The team has advanced to Elite Eights six times, and Final Fours twice. Their goal for the spring season is to once again get to the Final Fours. “It’s not that it’s important to win. When we play well together, everyone feels great about it, and then winning just happens,” says Emily “Peesta” Shiflett, spring season captain.

So why is our women’s rugby team so amazing? Coach Nancy Kechner believes that, “we have smart players and we try to empower them to make their own decisions. Many teams are too scripted. They’re told to drive left three times, and then drive right twice, and if you mess them up they get very lost.” Winters agrees, and believes that “students who join the team attend UVA, and so are dedicated at what they do, passionate about it, and always give their best.” Furthermore, both captains agree that the team’s victories are largely due to their coaches, Nancy Kechner and Julie Comer. “We have the best coaches, who are experienced in all the positions, and they really know what each player should do,” says Shiflett.

Team chemistry is definitely another reason why the women perform so well on the field. Many players agree that all of their closest friends have come from the team. “We just sweat together, bleed together, [my favourite thing about the team is] definitely the close bonds we form,” says Winters. When imagining state champions the night before their last game, most would picture coaches ushering their players into bed, reminding them to stay focused and to save their energy. However, the night before championships, members of the team were busy running through the hallways of their motel, playing pranks on each other and angering hotel management.
Winters believes that to reach their goal of getting to the Final Fours, the team will have to “keep up the intensity and spirit, work just as hard, and continue doing what they’ve done this season.” In the upcoming season, the team will play Mardi Gras, ACIs, VWIT, and Sweet Sixteens. With everybody visiting the gym regularly to accrue workout points, the team should be ready to run faster and hit harder in the spring season. With scrumcaps full of fortitude and mouth guards in place, UVA Women’s Rugby team should be able to ruck their way to the top.

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