The big leagues

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Denison took on Ohio State in a scrimmage just prior to the tournament.

After playing some seriously tough rugby in sleet and rain for more than an hour on April 6 in Allendale, Mich., the Denison’s women’s team was trailing the club from Grand Valley State University, 13-10. It was a first-round match in the 2013 USA Rugby women’s collegiate playoffs, and there were only five minutes remaining for the Big Red to erase the three-point deficit if they were going to advance to the round of 16 in the tournament.

Then it happened. Linda Weber ’13 touched the ball into the Grand Valley zone, and a sudden stillness moved across the field. Maggie Doyle ’13 looked to the referee to confirm what she had just witnessed. He blew the whistle, and the Big Red took the lead 15 to 13.

“It was unreal,” said Doyle, who is a co-captain with Kate Kloster ’13, also known as “Bro” (short for her nickname “Broken Robot” — long story). “I remember looking back at Bro, and she’s looking at me like she’s not going to believe it until I tell her it’s real. Then we just lost it screaming.

“The moment was unexpected. Even after their undefeated season and being ranked as the top team in Ohio in their division, winning a game against perennial power Grand Valley seemed impossible. GVSU, who also was undefeated and had defeated all six opponents by an average score of 71-6, came into the tournament ranked No. 5 in the division by Rugby Magazine. “I think, to be honest, everyone was scared,” said Kloster.

“They have a program that’s highly respected,” explains Doyle, an English major from Holland, Mich. “They’re a well-known team, and they recruit girls out of high school.” Yet Denison refused to view the match as a “David-versus-Goliath” situation. Kloster, Doyle, and head coach Garrett Fisher instead kept telling the players, “We’re not the underdogs. We’re equals.”

In the locker room before the game with Grand Valley, both captains encouraged players to share their memories and stories. “We left [the locker room ] thinking that we’ve accomplished so much and overcome so much that one more team isn’t going to get us,” said Doyle.

The camaraderie worked, and having left Grand Valley in their wake, Denison returned to Allendale to compete in the Midwest Regionals on April 12, first defeating the University of Illinois-Chicago by an impressive 31-10 score. The following day, in the national quarterfinals against the top ranked Black Katts club from Winona State University, Denison finally fell by a 55-3 score.

“That was a tough game,” said Kloster, an economics major from Ballwin, Mo., who recalled the snowy conditions on the field. “It was close. We were down at the half, but we had stuck with them.” In the second half, however, several Denison players had been injured, and the team lost its momentum. “I think we just mentally gave up,” said Kloster.

Doyle agreed. “And they’re great rugby players. Hats off to them. But I think our players getting hurt was bad.” Doyle broke her finger on Friday, but played in Saturday’s game. Injuries had kept some women out of the tournament completely, and since rugby is a fall sport that schedules its post-season play in the spring, Denison had to rearrange field positions to account for team members who are spending their spring semester abroad.

Now that their time as Denison ruggers is over, Doyle and Kloster both want to continue their rugby careers after graduation in May, whether by joining community teams or coaching younger girls. But the loss to Winona State didn’t end their Denison playing days. Last weekend (April 20-21), the pair joined several Denison teammates and other young players from throughout the state to play for the All-Ohio Under 23 All-Star Team in Davenport, Iowa. The Ohio team, coached by Fisher, competed against other teams composed of the best players from other Midwest states, including Minnesota, and Illinois.

“I think it is going to be such a higher level than anything we’ve seen, and I’m really excited,” said Kloster, who had just been named as one of seven Denison President’s Medalists just before the two women left for Iowa.

Doyle added, as only a writing major can, “Yeah, we’re super geeked.”

This just in: We’re happy to report that, over the weekend in the Midwest All-Star tournament in Iowa, the Ohio team downed Minnesota, 43-17, in the semifinals on Saturday and defeated Great Plains, 26-17, in the finals to win the Tier II bracket.

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