The SIU women’s rugby club team isn’t afraid to get a little dirty.
The club’s spring season is in full swing, as the team held and placed third in the All Fools Rugby Classic Saturday with teams from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Loyola and Purdue. The tournament was the team’s third this season.
This year, Loyola finished on top for the first time ever in the round-robin tournament.
“We have been coming to All Fools since I was playing back in 2002,” said Loyola coach Genevieve Hamel. “We’ve never won, Purdue’s always been the team to beat here. There was great competition all around and we are so happy to finally be able to take one home.”
The SIU women also beat Purdue, a first for many of the team’s players.
“We’ve played this team a million times and lost,” said fullback Nicole Lowden, a senior from Worth studying biological sciences. “We actually won this time and it feels great.”
SIU coach Apryl Gordon has been involved in Saluki women’s rugby since 1994, and was a member of the ’95 team that restarted the club after a 10 to 15 year hiatus because of a lack of interest, Gordon said. She said the women’s rugby team has participated in the All Fools Tournament since the team started back up.
This season has been a rebuilding year for the Salukis, who only returned five players from last year’s team, Gordon said. Lowden said the team’s 23 players have been able to overcome a lack of experience with strong enthusiasm.
“We’ve got a lot of new people so it’s been a really big challenge,” she said. “We’re putting full force into it, full heart into it. We’ve definitely got a lot of passion.”
One of the team’s veteran leaders is utility player Kestrel Felton, a senior from Rockford studying zoology. Unlike the majority of the team, Felton said she has a strong background in rugby. Felton has been playing rugby, which is more prominent in Europe than the U.S., for four years and comes from a family in which everyone plays.
Felton said the biggest challenge women rugby players face is the stereotype.
“I get told all of the time that I don’t look like a rugby player because I’m pretty and fit,” she said. “That’s doesn’t mean you can’t play rugby.”
“They think we’re a bunch of drunk idiots running around, but that’s not what it is,” she said.
Gordon said the majority of the team is comprised of former high school athletes that are looking for the adrenaline rush they lost after their final prep game and rugby provides that.
“A lot of girls played high school sports and they came to college and did nothing,” Gordon said. “A lot of them came from a small school where they were ‘big man on campus’ and they come to a college with 25,000 people on campus and they are a nobody. They don’t know anybody and they aren’t involved in a school sport. So if they see a flyer and decide to come out for rugby, there’s that team and that feeling that they were missing from high school.”
The team plays Saturday against the University of Illinois at Champaign.