Best defense is good offense for MSUM rugby

by Haley Foster

The MSUM Women’s Club Rugby team is fresh off two national championship appearances last season, and they don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

There are two kinds of rugby — 15s in the fall and 7s in the spring. MSUM took third place at the 15s’ national championships last fall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, then finished in fifth place during the spring season at the 7s’ National Championships in West Point, New York.

“Our offense just smothers everyone,” said head coach Athena Aitken. “As far as defense goes, we’re not really a defensive team. We’re defensive in the sense that when we get the ball we’re not gonna let it go.”

Senior Lexi Byler said she prides the team on its ability to “strip” the ball and force turnovers when they’re on the defensive.

So far in the six games they’ve played this season, the women have scored a total of 366 points, averaging 61 points per game, allowing zero points against them.

“Obviously we don’t want to get scored on,” Byler said. “I think it’s a cool goal for us to try and stay strong defensively and not have anyone score on us.”

Senior practice captain Mackenzie Willets said it’s exciting to be at this point in the season, considering where the team began.

“We used to lose almost every game, and now we’re lucky enough to be winning every game,” she said. “It’s been in our favor, but who knows if this streak will last?”

The team started its season with a bang, winning the All Minnesota Rugby Tournament for its second consecutive year. It won over the University of Wisconsin, River Falls in the first round, winning 52-0. In the second game of the day, they faced Luther College, winning 68-0. Day two proved to be a success when they defeated the College of Saint Benedict 58-0. During the championship round, they beat UWRF a second time 40-0.

Out of the 20-plus players on the team, only one played rugby before college. So what’s the secret to the team’s success?

“Our team strengths are the variety of athletes we have. We have a lot of ex-soccer, basketball, hockey, gymnastics — a variety of athletes,” Aitken said. “Number one, I think is belief for us. It’s the belief that we can go out there and perform in a sport that maybe some of them hadn’t even heard of three months ago.”

Willits said the best thing about playing rugby is that anybody can do it.

“You wanna give open arms to anyone that wants to try it out,” Willits said. “If you want to try rugby, you are more than welcome to come and play with us. If it’s not for you, that’s totally fine. We love fans as well.”

But she warns that for her, rugby was addictive.

“If you stick it out, once you play that first game, you’re hooked,” she said.

The team continued its winning streak in a doubleheader Sept. 26 against the University of Minnesota Morris and Southwest Minnesota State University. MSUM won 81-0 against SMSU and took down Morris 67-0.

“Usually at the end of the game we’ll ask, ‘so what was the score?’ and we’ll be like ‘oh, we didn’t get scored on. That’s good,’” Willits said. “I think what’s on everyone’s mind during the game is the job they need to get done.”

The women finished their 2014-2015 season ranked second in the nation in 15s, and fifth in the nation for 7s.

“I think the team goal is to do better than we did last year,” Aitken said. “The last few years we’ve been moving up and up and up slowly but surely. So our goal’s just like last year — win games, score points, and go to the ‘ship.”

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