Late in the afternoon of a crisp fall day, the sun nearly ready to dip below the nearby trees, Lydia Menendez ’24 sits on the bleachers at Babson’s Harrington Rugby Pitch. She’s putting on her shoes, which have imposing, thick cleats. “They give you grip while you’re playing,” Menendez says.
Menendez and her teammates on the Babson Women’s Rugby Club are gathering for their regular Wednesday practice. After warming up with a sprint or two about the pitch, they huddle around the team’s head coach, Dave Meyer. Before they begin practice, one filled with lunging and tackling, running and tossing, he gives them a quick reminder. “Mouthguards, please,” he says.
The women’s rugby team, one of a number of club sports played at Babson, has been a part of campus life since its founding in 1996 (its male counterpart, the Babson United Rugby Club, was founded in 1979). Rugby may be known as a rough sport, but Meyer contends that anyone can play. “It doesn’t matter your size, shape, athletic ability. You can be a rugby player,” he says. “There are ruggers all over.”
And, at Babson, they are a small but mighty group.
Laughter and Bruises
Rugby is not a typical sport that children grow up playing, so Babson students often come to the women’s club without any prior experience. “Ninety-five percent of players have never seen a rugby ball before they started playing,” Meyer says. “It’s rare to find someone with rugby experience.”
Many are talked into showing up to a first practice, but that first practice may be all that’s needed for them to fall in love with the game. “I joined because one of my friends pushed me into it, but it was the push I needed,” says Tierney Gregory ’23, one of the club’s 11 players.
A couple of friends on the team convinced Abby Tjie ’24 to stop by a practice, even though she didn’t know the basic rules of how the game is played. Tennis and swimming were Tjie’s sports in middle and high school, but she kept an open mind about the unknown sport. “The idea of rugby, a team sport where I could be a part of a community of strong women, was really awesome to me,” she says.
Two prior team captains recruited Allison Warner ’23 at the gym in her very first week as a Babson student. She soon felt at home on the club. “It is a great team for girls who were athletic in high school and want to try something new and challenging in college,” Warner says. “I have found great friendships, laughter, bruises, and an aggression that I didn’t know I had in me.”
Yes, rugby may be fierce and physical, but it is also a game filled with strategy and speed. The action on the field can be smooth, swift, and exhilarating. “I love the thrill of it,” Gregory says. “The adrenaline right before a game is what makes me play. It’s like nerves along with excitement and love of the sport.”
The bonds formed playing rugby are strong. Rugby is known for community and camaraderie, not just among teammates but with opponents as well. Play against a vicious player, Menendez says, and you may find she is the sweetest person once the game is over. “Whatever happens on the field, stays on the field,” Menendez says. “It is never personal.”
A Position for Everyone
At Wednesday’s practice, the team works on moving the ball about the field and hitting a tackling dummy. Players are taught good form, the importance of communication, and how to handle the scramble, or ruck as it’s known in rugby, for a loose ball. “I want you hitting that ruck hard,” advises Meyer.
By the time practice is over, sunlight is fading. Menendez returns to the bleachers and changes her shoes. She also puts her earrings back in. She had taken them off before practice.
“I have found great friendships, laughter, bruises, and an aggression that I didn’t know I had in me.”
Allison Warner ’23
Not everyone is so careful. Warner had forgotten to take her earrings off, and now she and some teammates are looking for a lost one in the middle of the field. Somehow, despite the dying light, they find it. “Sometimes I forget that the rugby pitch is not the place for accessorizing,” Warner says. “Physical contact makes jewelry dangerous.”
Warner serves as the team’s co-captain along with Gregory, and she says the club is always open and welcoming to new players. “We are always recruiting,” Warner says. “Girls can be short or tall, fast or strong. There is a position for everyone.”
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