Currents

By Gus Bode

After a grueling game and a hefty amount of physical punishment, the SIU rugby team celebrated by tackling each other to the ground in glee.

Though it was only the first game of the tournament, Wicks said nothing could dampen the day after a win against their biggest rivals.

“That was great rugby out there today. It was back and forth and competitive until the end,” Wicks said. “The win meant a lot to us. It’s like when our basketball team beats Creighton.”

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Doheny did not concern himself too much with the loss. Illinois State and SIU play each other multiple times in a season, and Doheny said he knows the outcome will be different in a few weeks.

“This team we lost to today, they will not beat us when it counts,” Doheny said. “Next time we play, we will win by 30 points, you can be sure about that.”

While it may not count, Wicks said it was the perfect start to Ruggapalooza 2008. The annual rugby tournament is hosted and organized by the SIU women’s rugby team and has featured teams throughout the Midwest for nine years.

The tournament does not count in official standings, but offers a way for teams to help rookie players earn experience.

One rookie experienced a rude welcoming to rugby.

Anne Spear, a first-year player for Illinois State, suffered a severe sprain in her ankle during the SIU game. Though she could barely walk to the sideline, she said the game could not have been any better.

“I’m ready to go again,” Spear said. “It’s impossible to explain the adrenaline rush you get when you’re out there battling.”

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To make a tournament like this possible, the women had to turn wide-open fields into top-notch rugby pitches.

At 5 a.m., while the SIU football team was still resting and thinking about the season opener, the women of the SIU rugby team were building goal posts and tents for their event.

Erin Dickson, the unofficial coach and most veteran player of the rugby team, said the players used anything from duct tape, PVC pipe and thread to assemble goal posts.

Dickson said working hard in the early hours helped the team get its blood pumping for its first game at 9:30 a.m.

“Waking up and playing so early wasn’t a problem for us,” Dickson said. “9:30 felt like midday, so we were pumped up and ready to go.”

But getting past Illinois State was just the beginning as the women had less than an hour to prepare for its second game against Indiana. Wicks said Indiana was the favorite to win the tournament and one of the meanest teams around.

Wicks’ claim was proven true when Indiana walked to the sidelines wearing shirts with the motto, “We put the laughter in manslaughter.” The sadistic slogan failed to intimidate Kayla Bailey, a second-year player for SIU’s rugby team.

“This is the biggest tournament for us, and we get to play in front of our friends,” Bailey said. “We are up for the challenge and are going to bring it to them.”

Though SIU never quit, Indiana rolled through the home team and injured one of its players along the way. Sarah Stack, also a second-year rugby player, banged heads with a teammate while going for a tackle.

Though Stack did not suffer a concussion, she was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons. Meghan Reid, a graduate assistant in physical therapy, was on hand treating the athletes and said rugby leads to a chaotic day.

“Let’s just say rugby is a very, very rough sport,” Reid said. “We go through coolers full of ice on days like this.”

The Recreation Center also helped organize the event and made sure ambulances, EMTs and police officers were on hand throughout the event.

In the final game of the day, the SIU rugby team lost to University of Illinois, but spectators were still impressed.

Laura Pratt, a former SIU rugby player who graduated in August, drove from Chicago to watch the team compete. She said the team looked strong, especially because they had so many young players.

“The rookies are doing very well, and they all seem to be athletic and used to competition,” Pratt said. “It all depends on dedication, and this team has it.”

One of the young stars is Cerrin Eldridge. The Marion native caught the attention of many teams with her combination of speed and power. Throughout the tournament, she would beat defenders to the sideline and if they were brave enough to challenge her, she would throw violent stiff-arms to their faces.

Eldridge said she was attracted to rugby because of her experience with sports in high school. She said being able to practice four days a week for two hours and go out and compete is something she loves.

“Rugby is definitely a great game, and I love it more every time I play,” Eldridge said. “I think more people will start to play as they realize it’s not about being big or strong.”

Though the team only won one of its three games, Dickson said it was another successful event. Dickson has been involved in seven of the eight tournaments and said the friendships and competition keep her coming back for more.

“Off the field we are all friends and have a great time,” Dickson said. “Even if we lose, at the end of the day we got to play rugby, so we’re winners in that sense.”

Jeff Engelhardt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 268 or [email protected]

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