Tulane women’s club rugby road to nationals

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Mackenna Barker, Online Sports Editor

When Tulane women’s club rugby faced the Division I ranked Texas A&M team in the spring of 2015, the team walked on the field with a weary attitude focused on not getting demolished. The team walked off the field 2 hours later with surprised elation and a hard-earned win.

That was in 2014-15 as a social team that played nothing more than friendly matches. This year, the team’s first year as a member of the Division II South Independent Rugby Conference, the Green Wave has burst onto the scene, outperforming expectations to secure a trip to the round of 16 of the women’s collegiate DII championship tournament.

“[Beating Texas A&M] was a huge moment as a team for us because it wasn’t really something we went into thinking we were really going to be successful,” coach Jessica Mallindine said. “Then we did, and we did in a really amazing way. The team played great together and it all clicked and I think that was the moment when I think as a team they really decided that they could actually be a really serious and competitive club. From there it’s kind of just been a whirlwind.”

After Katrina hit in 2005, the Tulane women’s club rugby team disbanded. After several years of absence, a group of students re-established the team in 2013-14.

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In its second year back on campus, the relatively small team made a strong push in recruiting.

“We grew from a team of about eight girls to a team of about thirty girls now,” team president Alex Clarke said. “Last year, we weren’t a winning team, we didn’t do much, and then we recruited a bunch of sophomores who were freshmen at the time… Everything clicked and it was really cool.”

The momentum from a strong recruitment year and a win over the ranked Texas A&M propelled the team into a powerful start this season. After winning their first matrix match of the season, the team began to recognize its potential.

“We came out our first game of our matrix season and we absolutely killed it,” team captain Maddie Brenner said. “We played really well and I think that really just had everybody like ‘wow, we could really take this somewhere.’ So, I think for the remainder of the season that brought us closer together because we knew that everybody could rely on everybody, both on and off the field. We enjoy being together, we always hang out together.”

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The team’s chemistry and single-minded dedication on the field pushed it to the success it’s experiencing now. Beyond the passion and hard work, each member of the team is involved in other organizations on campus and each is well versed in time management.

Between two hour practices twice a week, “swolemates” lifting days twice a week and game day on Saturdays, the players balance school and their various other responsibilities. Clarke is president of the Tulane Society of Women Engineers in addition to rugby, and many other teammates are members of sororities or strongly engaged in Tulane organizations as well as consistently performing well in school. Even with their other engagements, each members’ commitment to each other and the team cannot be mistaken, creating a stable base for the club to grow.

“The network and the sustainability of this club is very, very strong,” coaching consultant Matthew Williams said. “I’ve worked with a lot of teams, and this, professionally, is as good as a full time professional team in England.”

After the team earned a bid to nationals, the players started a fundraiser to collect the money the team required to travel to Atlanta for the tournament.  The donations started flowing in instantly.

“It was 24 hours and they had the $3,000 worth of funding,” Mallindine said.

The team has seen an outpouring of support from the Tulane community and beyond.

“For the GoFundMe, we had more people donate outside the Tulane community,” Clarke said. “We had people donate from teams that we’ve played before, people donate from all the New Orleans community teams.”

Having reached the part of the season where every game it plays could be its last, the team kicked the preparation up leading to regionals and then nationals. More practices, more film study, more effort and concentration.

After a redemption win over Kennesaw State on the Saturday of regionals, Tulane dropped a heartbreaker in the final 30 seconds to the University of Georgia on Sunday. This upcoming weekend in the Round of 16, the Wave will face Eckerd College at 9 a.m. on Saturday in Atlanta. If Tulane wins that match, it will go on to face the victor of the University of Georgia and University of Arkansas matchup on Sunday.

“I think going into Saturday, a lot of it is just we’re definitely expecting to come back with that same intensity that we started last weekend with, because that hopefully will take us to Sunday and we can play with that same intensity,” Brenner said. “We’re looking absolutely to win this weekend, but we’re looking to have a huge performance on Saturday and hopefully face UGA again for some redemption.”

Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the women’s rugby team has a powerful bond and a tremendous sense of pride for the season.

“If [this weekend] is the end of their journey, not that I would believe it should be, what they’ve done this year is remarkable up until now, anything more is exceptional,” Williams said. “The only thing is with this group of players if you asked any of them, they are not going there on Saturday and Sunday to come second. And I think that’s a testament to them, it’s a testament to their coach and the abilities and support.”

Photos courtesy of Dmitriy Pritykin