Western’s men and women’s rugby to Nationals

Written by: Jaylin Hardin | Sports Editor

For the first time in Western’s history, both men’s and women’s rugby teams are going to the Collegiate Rugby Championships — CRC — National 7s tournament. The ruggers — as rugby players are often called — stamped their tickets to Washington D.C. for the second time for the men’s team and the first 7s tournament attendance for the women’s team. Both teams have competed in the National 15s tournament at least once. 

Initially, the women’s team hadn’t even realized they could put in their bid for nationals. 

“Our coach was like, hey, did you know, like we could go to a qualifying match and go to nationals? I was like, do it, and then we did it and we went and I was like, we should have been doing this,” said senior Claire “Car” Rickis. Rickis is the club’s president and has played rugby for five years. 

A Howl representative recently had the opportunity to sit down and interview the members of the women’s rugby team. It was evident the team was a close-knit group, as they all spoke highly of each other, along with playful jabs that are common amongst friends and teammates.

When prompted with questions about zombie apocalypses and deserted islands, they shared a variety of answers but dissolved into laughter when Rickis said teammate Estela Miranda-Aguilar would be most likely to resort to cannibalism.  

“There’s a lot of high energy, and I think ambition that everybody feels. It’s like a shared goal,” said senior Ever Young. Her teammates voiced similar feelings of excitement and pride.

To qualify for Nationals, the women’s team needed to win the Fool’s Gold tournament, facing off against the College of Idaho, Willamette University and the University of Idaho. Standings in this tournament were based on the wins and losses of each team. 

In the Fool’s Gold tournament, which was hosted at Western, the women went 2-1-0, leading the qualifying tournament with 11 total points. 

Coach Nic Smith feels confident about the team’s ability to come home successful from Washington: “I truly feel great about our chances of coming back home with a trophy. The team has trained hard, they play better and better each game, they’ve learned so much about rugby, and the want is there,” Smith said. 

The men’s team shares similar positive energy on the road to Nationals.

“I think we’re pretty prepared. I think we have a good shot going in,” said sophomore Jacob Smith. “Most of us have been there before, so we’ve just got to capitalize and do what we know.”

In last year’s 7s CRC, the men were knocked out in the second round by Babson College — who went on to win the tournament — and placed tenth overall in the nation. 

Recently, they added the title of 2024 Northwest Men’s Collegiate Rugby Conference champions under their belts, accomplishing this for the second year in a row. 

After losing to the Oregon Institute of Technology — OIT — in their first match, they quickly bounced back and dominated the pitch against both the University of Puget Sound and Willamette University in the second and third matches. Gonzaga University was also supposed to participate in the tournament but ultimately dropped out due to undisclosed reasons. This meant the men would play OIT a second time to decide the conference champions. 

Western’s loss against OIT in the first match determined that Western would start the match with a seven-point deficit. 

After scoring quickly in the first half after a total of seven minutes of play, Western proved a strong opponent this second time around. The teams went try for try in the second half, but Western was able to capitalize on OIT’s weaknesses and come out victorious.

“We’re a second-half team,” said senior Sangato Letisi. “But we’re working on becoming a first-half team.” The team’s first half against OIT in the second matchup was certainly their strongest outing of the tournament. 

OIT is the strongest competitor Western faces in their conference but has struggled in recent history to make waves against Western’s strong defense. 

On April 20, the brackets for both the men’s and women’s tournaments were announced. Each bracket is split into an east and west region, with the top sixteen teams from across the nation competing for the championship. The two regions represent the three different styles of bids each team has given. 

The men’s teams can qualify in one of these three ways: by winning their national qualifying tournaments, a conference champion bid or an at-large bid. The women only have two avenues: a conference champions bid or an at-large bid. 

Western’s clubs qualified with the men winning their tournament and the women being the conference champions. 

The men will be facing off against the one-seeded team for the west, Christendom College. The Christendom men’s team were champions for their conference this year and are a part of the Cardinals Men’s Collegiate Rugby Conference. Virginia Military Institute competes in this conference as well, ranking third in the east region.

The women sit as one of the middleman teams, meaning they will play Colby College Women’s for their first match-up. Like Western’s women team, Colby was the champion of their conference — the Rugby Northeast Women’s Collegiate Conference.

The 2024 CRC will be taking on a new bracket format this year: for the first time, a Cascading Bracket will be played. 

Completely eliminating pool play and knock-out rounds, the Cascading Bracket has four brackets of play: the cup, bowl, plate and shield brackets. If you lose in the cup bracket, you will drop to the bowl bracket, rather than being eliminated from the tournament. This ensures more matches for each team, as well as more exciting brackets.

This is also good news for Western’s rugby teams, as it means they will not be knocked out if they lose. Last year’s loss against Babson eliminated the men’s team on their first day of play, meaning they did not compete on the second day of competition. This new bracket format will mean Western will face opponents on both days.  

The men travel to Washington on April 24, and the women will follow in their travel schedule tomorrow. Play for the teams will occur this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the men’s championship game being played on Saturday and the women’s on Sunday.

For the CRC, Western’s rugby teams will also be traveling the furthest to compete: a total of 2,862 miles to Washington. Other universities from Oregon — Oregon State University men’s and the University of Oregon women’s — follow close behind Western in how far they have to travel. Oregon universities will travel a combined roundtrip of 17,010 miles. 

Matches will be live-streamed on the National Collegiate Rugby website and the Club Sports YouTube page. 

Contact the author at howlsports@wou.edu