Women?s rugby faces challenge

Marshall Hampson

After going undefeated in Division II last season, the women’s rugby club of Sacramento State will face a new challenge this year – moving up to Division I.

Last year, the women were crowned league champions of the Pacific West Coast Conference. The move to Division I means better competition.After all the success of the 2008-09 season, many changes occurred in the offseason. Sac State lost half of its championship team members and both head coaches.

The team this year, led by senior outside center Lisa Roselin and senior flanker Haylee Corliss, overcame all the changes pretty quickly by shutting out 16th-ranked University of Oregon 24-0 at home in a preseason match on Nov. 7.

“We came out and didn’t know what to expect,” Corliss said. “We went into the game like, “let’s just play as hard as we can.'”

Both stars got into rugby in a strange way, however. Corliss, who will be graduating from Sac State with degree in government, and came across rugby by confusing it with a different sport when she was a freshman.

“I saw a rugby flyer and I came out and actually thought rugby was lacrosse,” Corliss said. “I was waiting to see girls throw around balls with sticks.”

On the other hand, while Roseline was studying aboard in Australia for her degree in marketing, one of her classmates was trying to recruit someone for the Sac State team. Roselin overheard the recruiter talking about rugby and was instantly motivated to join the team.

New head coach David Jackson and assistant coach Mike Dobson joined the team without knowing any of its members. Jackson came from Del Campo High School, where he coached men’s rugby. He has never coached a collegiate team until this year.

He said the transition was not that difficult.

“We’re all rugby players so it was an easy transition,” Jackson said. “Most girls are ready to go.”

Both Roselin and Corliss said they were excited about the new coaches.

“They know the game really well and can talk to us as athletes and as girls,” Roselin said.

Corliss said her experience last semester was more important in her rugby career than any other semester.

“I probably learned the most last semester with the new coaches than the other three years I’ve played,” Corliss said. “It’s a lot more competitive. We all need to work as a team, work together and stay fit. Fitness is a huge part of it.”

A standard rugby match lasts 80 minutes and it gets broken down into two, forty-minute halves. So the players are constantly running, tackling and getting hit.

Not only do the women have to stay fit for the new season, they also have to get the 17 rookies on the same page by the time the regular season begins.

The Hornets took first place in the Santa Barbara State Tournament earlier in the preseason, which gave the team an idea of how they were going to perform throughout the regular season.

“It was the first time I saw the rookies play a full 80-minute game,” Roselin said.

Roselin said hitting, scoring and knowing what it feels like to win were things the team got addicted to in the preseason.

However, the Hornets have some tough challenges ahead this season in the new division. Sac State has back-to-back matches against Division I rugby powerhouses UC Davis and Stanford early in the season. Both teams are ranked high, and Stanford is perennially ranked high in the polls.

“My goal is to beat Stanford and become Division I National Champions,” Jackson said.

The Cardinal ended the 2009 season as runner-up in the NCAA National Championship match, losing to Penn State in the tournament. Even with the loss, Stanford has the No. 1 ranking in Division I for the 2010 preseason. In fact, five of the seven opponents the Hornets face were ranked in the top-25 preseason poll.

If the women want to keep pulling off upsets this season, like the one against Oregon, Jackson said the team will have to get better with ball handling, line-outs and tackling.

Even after personnel changes, coaching changes and a division change in a matter of three months, the Hornets are optimistic about their chances to do well.

“I think we definitely have the opportunity; we have what it takes to win,” Corliss said.

Marshall Hampson can be reached at [email protected]