Women’s rugby hopes young team can jell

Last year was a year of achievement and a year of disappointment for the Norwich Women’s Rugby team. The team came in second overall in 7’s and 15’s. This year they are looking to go all the way. “We are throwing everything into it,” said head women’s coach Austin Hall.

“We are running like crazy this year,” said Hall. “We’re trying to up our work rate. Workouts have been harder than they have been in the last couple of years.”

After the disappointment of last year’s second place finish in both the 7’s team ands the 15’s team, they are practicing and playing with a chip on their shoulders. “Its really tough emotionally and spiritually to come in second place,” Hall said. “It’s like you’re better than 350 teams in the country, but there’s still that one that’s better than you are.”

The women are looking to use that heartbreak to become a powerhouse in the conference. So far, their record is 2-3, with a loss to Army/West Point, Quinnipiac and AIC, and wins against AIC and last weekend a 122-7 stomping of Sacred Heart. There are several big games lying ahead as the team seeks to improve,.

Penn State is one of Norwich’s biggest competitors. Penn State has dominated the past five to six years in the 15’s tournament. Penn State beat Norwich in the 15s national championship last year.

Another competitor standing in Norwich’s way is Army. “Every time we play 15s or 7s a war breaks out,” said Hall. “They are so much like us, fit, fast, and physical players.”

The new captains Riley Blankenship and Hannah Bell are providing an extremely positive attitude to the team. “All they could do was bring back a positive energy,” said Hall about their comeback win against American International College (AIC). “They never got down on themselves.”

Keeping a positive attitude will play a large factor in the team’s success this year. But the captains have a hard task. There are a lot of freshman on the team that don’t have as much experience, which has clearly caused some headaches as the team seeks to gain experience.

The Women have four freshman starters: Bayli Jenski and Sheila Decker are two especially noticeable. They both have national team experience giving them an edge over some of the other freshman.

The team and new freshman are trying “a new style of play,” said Hall. “In past years we would get the ball to the edge of the field and let our fast players just run by the other team,” said senior captain and scrum half, Hannah Bell, 21, an international studies and Spanish major from Newberg, Ore. “This year we are running the ball down the middle of the field and using the team’s size to our advantage. We wear opponents down physically from running it up the middle, then get the ball to the edges.”

The women plan to use this new style of play to try and beat Penn. State and Army, explained Bell.

“We’ve played teams that use this style of play and it just sucks,” Bell said. The new style of play forces the opponent to tackle more making play tougher on the body.

“We have bigger players that hit harder,” said Bell. “We are going to be the team that is punching everyone in the mouth.”

With Norwich currently at 2-3 at the halfway point of their season, everyone looks to finish strong before the championships in December.


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