Women’s rugby wraps up historic season

    Women’s club rugby team finishes season in national tournament

    Sam Johnson

    More stories from Sam Johnson

    The Tator
    December 13, 2022

    Photo by SUBMITTED

    Kasprzak said she’s been playing rugby since high school.

    The UW-Eau Claire women’s rugby team wraps up its best season ever with an undefeated regular season and a top-eight finish at the national tournament, according to Becky Kasprzak, a fourth-year business management student and team captain.

    Kali Harpster, a third-year business administration student, said this was the team’s first opportunity to play against other teams since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Last year we only practiced,” Harpster said. “This year, all we wanted to do was play.”

    According to Harpster, there were a number of rookie players this season playing rugby for the first time, including Lydia Sinn, third-year management and human resources student.

    Kasprzak said there were 17 new players this season, but she still felt good about their chance at success.

    “There was a lot of dedication and drive,” Kasprzak said. “In the past, we’d have seven or so players showing up to practice, but this year it was more like 30.”

    Harpster said in September, Sinn and the other players were learning the rules and other fundamentals of the sport, then two months later, those same players were competing with the top teams in the country.

    “The first few weeks were heavily focused on the basics,” Sinn said. “There was a bit of a learning curve, but I had played sports before, so the athletic drive was already there.”

    Sinn said she didn’t have many expectations going into this season, she simply wanted to make friends and have fun.

    The team went undefeated in the regular season, with wins against UW-Stevens Point, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan University and UW-Stout. During the regular season, the team only allowed 22 points, according to ncrugby.org.

    Following the team’s undefeated regular season, it won its next two playoff games, defeating DePaul University 107-7, then recording a 65-12 win against UW-La Crosse.

    The conference championship brought the team’s first loss of the season when it fell 10-17 against Marquette University.

    According to Harpster, the team was one try — similar to a touchdown in football — and a conversion kick — similar to an extra point in football, away from a win.

    “The loss made us work harder,” Harpster said. “We already had a bid to go to nationals, so we focused on that.”

    After the loss to Marquette, the team earned the No.11 seed in the nation and traveled to Iowa Falls for the national tournament. In the “sweet sixteen,” the team beat Bowling Green, then fell to Northern Iowa in the “elite eight.”

    According to Sinn, this was the best end result in UW-Eau Claire women’s rugby history.

    Kasprzak said Northern Iowa was the top-ranked team in the nation and the Northern Iowa coach complimented the Ruggers on their play after the game.

    Club Rugby has two seasons, one in the fall and one in the spring, according to Kasprzak. The fall season is played with 15 players on the field for 80-minute games, and the spring season is 7-player games for a much shorter duration.

    Johnson can be reached at [email protected].