After outscoring its regular season opponents by nearly 800 points over the last two seasons, the Bowdoin women’s rugby team chose to leave the New England Small College Rugby Conference (NESCRC) in favor of a more challenging schedule.

“It’s what we’ve wanted, and it’s really what we’ve needed,” Head Coach Marybeth Mathews said. “The past two years were very challenging because there wasn’t much of a challenge, which made it hard for us in the postseason to go up against tougher teams without having experienced much competition in the regular season.”

This season the Bowdoin Women’s Rugby Team will play an independent schedule against primarily other Division II varsity teams from the Northeast. The teams that Bowdoin played in the NESCRC were all club teams, so this season the team expects higher levels of organization and skill from its opponents.

“I think the level of play should be increased and improved from last season. These teams are going to have solid, stable coaching staffs and the skill level of the teams will be higher,” Mathews said.

“We’re excited to play more competitive teams,” captain Cristina Lima ’17 said. “It’s definitely going to be a bigger challenge and we’re embracing that.”

Despite the expectation of tougher competition, the team is using the same methods of preparation that they’ve used in previous seasons.

“The way that our practices are set up and the way that we are preparing for our opponents is exactly the same,” captain Samantha Hoegle ’17 said. “However, because of the higher levels of competition, I think what our coaches are teaching us in practice will be more immediately applicable in a game situation, rather than having to wait two months to use it in a national tournament.”

A large portion of the team is new to rugby, which presents another challenge as it enters a more competitive season.

“In a way this is an interesting year to leave the conference because we are younger and we are less experienced than we have been in probably 15 to 20 years,” Mathews said.

“It’s actually kind of nice having a young team; we get to see the program grow right in front of us,” Hoegle said.

Bowdoin had its first scrimmage against Brown, a Division I varsity team, this past weekend. Despite losing 39-14, it was a productive day for the Polar Bears and a great learning experience  to compete against a higher-level program.

“Brown arrived here in the morning, we practiced together, had lunch together and then went back on to the field and had a scrimmage afterwards. That day really shows what is so perfect about the rugby culture—you have fierce competition on the field but great camaraderie off it,” Mathews said.

The team also has a strong senior presence. Motivated by the team’s great run of success in recent seasons, the class hopes to enhance the rugby culture at Bowdoin.

“The seniors really want to leave a legacy for the women that are joining the team,” Mathews said. “They want future classes to know what an honor and a privilege it is to wear the jersey and play rugby here, and that’s really special.”

The team opens the regular season at Molloy College in New York on September 24 at 11 a.m.