Synergy in the Sport

Three rugby players run down the court side-by-side. The rightmost player, wearing a grey crewneck, appears to be passing the rugby ball to one of the teammates. The player in the middle wears a maroon t-shirt, and the player on the left also is wearing a gray crewneck.

Here at Saint Joseph’s University, players on the Women’s Rugby Team are bound in close community while playing this fairly-niche sport.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend practices with this academic year-long club team. While the end-of-the-year cold Philadelphia weather could totally be a deterrent, these teammates have adapted in order to continue practicing with the cherished community they’ve built.

Four people wearing warm clothing stand in a mostly-linear formation on Sweeney Field, Saint Joseph's University's multipurpose turf field. The sky is dark, the bright field lights are on, and an academic building is visible in the background. The leftmost player holds a white rugby ball and looks to the player on her right.
The team running drills on Sweeney Field

I first observed a practice which took place during the coldest week in November.  As someone entirely new to the sport, I first had to familiarize myself with the moves as the committed players ran drills along the rugby “pitch.” I left this practice with a bit more familiarity towards the sport, or at the very least a basic understanding of the backwards pass formations which originally had me lost. I learned that in rugby, the ball must always be passed backwards. Unlike football, rugby is more about the distance that the players can run more than the distance a ball can be thrown.

The team of about 10 St. Joe’s students will practice on Thursday evenings, usually on Sweeney Field, as well as participate in lifting sessions at O’Pake Recreation Center. On the recurrent Saturday, you can find the players participating in a tournament with colleges in southeastern Pennsylvania and its surrounding states.

The teammates, following the instruction of Coach Michelina Viola (Mickey), immediately demonstrated a strong sense of cooperation. In fact, the sport appears to demand it. The players have to stay connected and communicate with each other as they weave around each other and pass the oval-shaped rugby ball.

Three rugby players and their coach are in motion running down a wooden-floor basketball court in a room with high ceilings. Various banners are high on the wall. A man working at the courts sits at a table in the background.
Running three-person drills at O’Pake

If the previous week wasn’t cold enough, the windy 34 degree weather during the next Thursday practice was deemed by the athletic department too harsh to meet in their usual outdoor location. Instead, the team switched into practicing under the bright lights of O’Pake’s indoor basketball courts. The squeaky wooden floors, tall ceilings, and neighboring basketball practice marked a drastic setting change from their outdoor practices. The players, however, did not seem to mind. Finals week closely approaching caused a less-than-regular attendance, but the remaining players kept smiles on their faces as they kicked off practice.

Throughout the drills, Coach Mickey and the girls continued to show their teamwork and willingness to help each other learn. I definitely didn’t see any players on this team yelled at for a mistake. Instead you’re likely to hear, “It’s okay, let’s just run it again!” Their shared goals as a team, as well as the shared knowledge of the sport, result in a bonded and uplifting community.

The rugby team welcomes new members to join! On the team, you can find the spot for both the experienced rugby fan and the optimistic college student looking to try something new. There’s no tryouts or cuts. If you’re interested in water-break laughs and close community, you can contact the coach by visiting SJU’s Club Sports Page. You can also keep in touch with the SJU Women’s Club Rugby team by following their Instagram.

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