The University of Richmond is not well-known for its women's rugby team.
In fact, many students would probably be surprised to learn that Richmond even has a squad. But the women of Richmond Rugby Football Club are looking to change that, and are increasing recruitment efforts and restoring the team as a force to be reckoned with in its league. Although its numbers have diminished in recent years, the club maintains a core of dedicated players who have made it their mission to see Spiders rugby grow into a popular club sport at Richmond.
Rugby is a difficult sport to recruit for because it remains an enigma for many students. The game is played with two opposing sides of 15 players, eight forwards and seven backs. The forwards are generally bigger, stronger players, while the backs are usually faster and more agile.
Lauren Trueax, a senior captain on the squad, said: "Something that is unique about rugby is that every different body type is appreciated on the field. In rugby, you might need a big chick who just needs to be able to hit people, or you might need a tall, skinny, fast girl to run the sides."
Rugby is a hybrid of soccer and football, both physical and cardiovascular. A match is played in two 40-minute halves that do not have pauses or time-outs, requiring an intense degree of fitness and a good measure of toughness, Trueax said.
Amanda Kilpatrick, a sophomore and co-captain of the team, said: "Yes, we get bruises, but we celebrate it in a different way. It just comes with the territory."
This is well-worn territory for Trueax and Kilpatrick. They have had their fair share of scrapes on the pitch, but lament that matches have been in short supply recently.
Trueax said her freshman year had been much different.
"We were one of the top teams in the league and we'd play teams like William & Mary and Mary Washington," she said. "This year we started out with just the two of us."
After losing a number of teammates to graduation, the women's rugby team found that it could no longer field a team for games against local colleges. A regulation match requires 15 players, a few more than the team of 13 can supply right now.
Yet, in the face of low participation and difficulty recruiting, these girls remain dedicated to the game, a testament to their passion and rugby's pull.
"I think another cool thing about rugby is that it really sucks you in," Trueax said.
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Kilpatrick agreed, saying, "I feel like I was made for rugby."
For these women, it's more than a club sport. It's a culture, a niche within the greater Richmond community.
"Rugby has the most intense sense of camaraderie that I've ever experienced," Trueax said. "It's a brotherhood."
These women are not just teammates, but they're also friends, a different type of sorority that is entirely distinct from Richmond's well-known Greek scene.
"I'm really excited about the sport in itself," Lauren Carlson, a freshman on the team, said, "but I also love the girls and team spirit that we have."
It's that sense of team spirit that has driven these women to embark on a new recruitment campaign in an attempt to bring in new members.
Trueax said she felt that the source of the problem was the team's publicity.
"A lot of people here don't know it exists," she said. "We need to get our word out more. I think they're just not informed about the sport in general."
She said rugby suffered from a common depiction of being too violent, which could discourage some girls from giving it a chance. Trueax and Kilpatrick said they hoped to change that misconception. They said that if Richmond girls were to give rugby a chance, they'd fall in love with the sport.
"We want to take the bad rep away from rugby and [start] informing people about it," Kilpatrick said.
The women's rugby club wants to have at least 15 members for a full squad next semester and hopes for even more. The players aren't looking to simply get a few games in this year. Rather, they want to firmly establish women's rugby as an institution at Richmond. It's their hope for the team to flourish into a popular activity on campus, so future Richmond students can have the chance to share in the same experiences they cherish.
"I want this to keep going after Lauren graduates, after I graduate and after our youngest players graduate," Kilpatrick said. "I don't want to see it fall on its feet again."
Contact staff writer Julia Pepe at firstname.lastname@example.org
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