Rugby on the radar

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Although it's brutal, intense and often bone-breaking, the seniors on the Falcons women's rugby team said it's the physical and psychological challenges of the sport that catapulted their confidence and friendships at the Academy.

The team's six lieutenants-to-be have something new to tackle -- their respective careers in the Air Force -- but they won't forget what the tough-skinned, hardheaded sport has taught them about teamwork, resilience and leadership.

"The sport itself is a blast and the people I was able to play with over my four years were amazing," said Cadet 1st Class Ann Dally, the team captain. "We became like a family and being a part of the team with such amazing girls helped me get through the Academy."

The spring team ranged from 25-35 players and competed in the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference. The team finished fourth in the region.

"In previous years, we were ranked among the top five in the nation," Dally said. "This year we lost three and won one as far as league matches go. The scores were very close, and I think with some more experience on the team, it will continue to grow and we can win another two back-to-back national titles again."

The team won national titles in 1995, 2002 and 2003 and last qualified for the Rugby Sweet 16 Playoffs in 2006.

"I see the team moving back to one of the top teams in the nation," said Dustin George, a 15-year rugby coach who came to the Academy in 2010. "The Academy has a great facility and gives the team the support they need."

Rugby is a style of football where the ball can be kicked, carried or passed from hand to hand. It's typically played by two teams of 15 with two 40-minute halves, and it involves full-contact tackling. Players attempt to get the ball into their opponents' goal without blocking opponents or passing the ball forward.

"The beauty of rugby is that you use so many different skill sets in the game," George said. "All of the positions are different and offer an opportunity for every type of athlete."

George coached rugby at the University of Northern Colorado and Colorado State. He said there's more to rugby than just its stereotypes.

"The game has depth and allows players to really get involved," George said. "Rugby is for a competitive spirit who has the capacity to learn and work hard."

Dally said rugby injuries aren't as common as one might think, despite the sport's hard-hitting nature.

"Physically, anyone can play, but you have to have the right attitude. You can't be afraid of being tackled or of tackling," Dally said. "Injuries happen, but there are ways to be safe about playing, and our team in particular has a big emphasis on safety. In our 30-year history as a club, nobody has ever lost their player qualification because of a rugby incident."

Women's rugby developed at the Academy in the late '80s and is offered in the fall and spring.

Dally said rugby is a great opportunity for women to be a part of a team, stay fit and test themselves.

"When you're on the field and there are 15 other women who want to physically hit you, repeatedly, your adrenaline starts pumping," Dally said. "You have to think through the fear and adrenaline, and make good decisions."

The team traveled to Boulder, New Mexico and Navy this season. They will head to Salt Lake City to play BYU in the fall.

"I enjoy the friendships you build during the sport," said Cadet 1st Class Shaina Thompson, who played on the team for two years. "We all have to rely on one another for moral and physical support. There will always be shining stars (who) play their position better than anyone else on the team, but the dynamics of how the ball is moved on the field forces everyone to work together."

Dally said she's seen a transformation in herself and teammates through rugby.

"Some of the girls I have played with off the field are shy and quiet and wouldn't hurt a fly," Dally said. "On the field, they become strong, confident, aggressive players."

Thompson said the game is a great stress outlet.

"Rugby is awesome, brutal, and I can be as intense as I want," Thompson said. "Rugby is tough, and if you aren't willing to put in the work, you'll just get worked."

The senior ruggers who bid farewell to the team are Chelsea Ragland, Emily Ryals, Rachael Holderle, Dally, Delaney Kiernan and Thompson.