Rugby opening players’ eyes

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Lukas Eggen
January 22nd, 2014

MONMOUTH — At first glance, Western Oregon University’s women’s rugby team is filled with mismatched parts.

Players participated in different sports and grew up in different parts of the world. Each athlete began playing rugby for different reasons: Sophomore Alana Rudolph was looking to try something new her freshman year, while Swedish exchange student Eriqa Hernandez had wanted to try rugby for years.

But look closer at the Wolves, and it’s clear that when they’re together, whatever differences they have disappear.

“This team means everything to me because we have built a family,” WOU women’s rugby club president Tori Boyd said. “We support each other on and off the pitch (field).”

For many of the players, their love of rugby stems from the nature of the sport. There’s tackling and hitting every bit as rough as in football — without helmets or pads. And in order to succeed, everyone must be on the same page at all times.

“I fell in love with how aggressive people are,” Rudolph said.

But while Western Oregon is growing on the pitch, the biggest impacts the sport has on its players are happening off it.

Life lessons

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Coach Mark Baldwin has been with Western Oregon since the team’s inception in 2004. Baldwin brings 29 years of playing experience and helped lead the Wolves to a large amount of success early on. Western finished third in the nation during the 2004-05 season and fifth in the nation during the 2006-07 season.

And as rugby has seen its popularity grow, the Wolves have seen an increase in new players looking to give the sport a shot.

But wanting to play and gaining the ability and knowledge to play are two different things.

“Standing on the sideline is different,” Rudolph said. “You don’t really understand why people are doing what they do. After playing the game and understanding how it’s supposed to be played, understanding the game is the hardest concept.”

Add in the endurance to run, and the strength to break through tackles and be able to take down your opponent no matter what, and rugby presents a big challenge to master.

“You have to have really good technique and a lot of courage, because you have to tackle everybody,” Baldwin said.

Though the Wolves lost to Oregon State 22-20 in an exhibition match on Saturday, Baldwin said he’s seen a lot of improvement, particularly from his first-year players. But the team’s most impressive results haven’t come on the pitch.

“This is one of the most amazing groups of young women I’ve ever coached,” Baldwin said. “They have an unparalleled connection, a love for each other and a love for the game. They have a willingness to work extremely hard to obtain their goals and support each other in doing so. They understand that to get ahead, you don’t do it by stepping on someone; you do it by building someone else up. You see it on every single person on this team.”

And the things you’ll learn can serve you for the rest of your life.

“I think the confidence, work ethic and determination that you need on the field helps you improve in all areas of your life,” Boyd said.

It’s those life lessons that Baldwin hopes his players take with them. That’s because after their time at Western Oregon is finished, he’s hoping rugby will help them make some big changes in whatever they choose to do.

“It’s a great sport for women athletes, because in our society, women are the backbone of our society,” Baldwin said. “They are treated like the bottoms of the feet of society. This is a place where women learn and realize they do have power, they are valuable, and they are the future.”

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