Women’s rugby team epitomizes tooth and nail commitment

Pamela London

Paloma Sutton-Barnes '11 and teammates prepare for a scrum in their November 13 game against Gonzaga University. The Motherruckers took the match with a 40-5 victory, finishing the fall portion of their season on a high note.Photo Credit: Julia Bowman

When you combine 22 girls, two goalposts, a muddy field and a ball resembling a football (throw in some rain just for fun), the result is arguably one of the most intense, commitment-driven sports at Whitman College: women’s rugby.

The Whitman women’s rugby team has been in existence since the mid-1990s and is primarily a student-led club team. Over the years, there has not been a full-time coach established in the program, resulting in a constantly changing number of players and fluctuations in athletes’ commitment level. In response, the team has been taken over by the students, and, during the last several years, has garnered more commitment and members since its inception.

“My favorite part about coaching rugby is my girls,” said coach Erin Winsper ’07, who has coached the team for all but one year since graduating. “Whether we win or lose, the bonds we have with one another on and off the pitch . . . are what make it worth every minute committed. And I still get to feel [like] a part of Whitman . . . I can still have the chance to feel like I never graduated every once in a while.”

That commitment to one another is something that has united the girls as a team, as well as the passion that runs between team members.

“Give me three weeks of practice and one game,” said junior captain Hannah Johnson. “If you’re not in love with [rugby] by then, fine, but I can almost guarantee that you will be.”

The team knows that rugby is not always viewed as a sport that is appealing to everyone, but they all recognize a shared love for the sport, and that’s all that matters.

“Rugby isn’t for everyone,” said senior captain Emily Lorente. “Often the sport itself is the tryout process. Our players prove themselves by coming back to practice.”

Photo Credit: Julia Bowman

“I have to admit it has been somewhat overwhelming with our potential in raw athletic talent and knowing that I am responsible for molding them into a rugby team,” said Winsper, reflecting on the development of the program and the dedication of its current members. “It is not the same drinking team with a rugby problem I signed onto in my Whitman career. These girls are serious about the sport and are becoming a force to be reckoned with.”

Often considered an overtly daunting sport, with all its presumed hitting and tackling that goes on throughout the course of a practice and games, the team firmly believes that anyone who wants to play rugby can do so easily.

“Anyone can join; all we ask for is dedication and a willingness to learn,” said Johnson.

“Don’t be intimidated by not knowing the rules of the sport,” added Winsper. “Very few girls that come to play for our team have any idea how the rules work until usually their first game where they can see it all put together.”

The rugby season is split into fall and spring, with the fall consisting of regional college play and the spring oriented around festivals and tournaments hosted by various schools including Whitman. By defeating Gonzaga University 40-5 on November 13, the team finished its fall season that began in September.

At first glance it may appear as though the Whitman women’s rugby team is just a bunch of girls having fun running around on a cold Saturday morning, but beneath these preconceptions what you find is a team dynamic that is competitive, committed and passionate.

Simply put, Saturday is rugby day.