This Spring Break, the women’s rugby team spent 10 days in France and Spain as part of its quadrennial international tour, funded by generous donations and fundraisers put on by the team. Since 1994, the Polar Bears have taken six tours and the experience has become an integral part of the program.
“[The trip] provided [the players] with lifelong memories, new friendships, cultural learning experiences and lessons in rugby not available in the U.S.,” said Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews. “It’s an important experience for the women who play varsity rugby at Bowdoin to spend time in countries where rugby is well known and respected as one of the top national sports. It validates them and their hard work for the sport and is so much fun to be part of.”
The Polar Bears played two matches abroad and won both. They emerged victorious over Club Esportiu Universitari (CEU) Rugby Club, which includes players from middle school to college, winning the match 32–27 in Barcelona. The team also beat the Universitaria Esportiva Sanboiana (USE), which is composed of graduate students and is the oldest rugby club in Spain. USE used the game to test out combinations of players for its future matches, which contributed to the 70-0 score.
“The tour was really good for our new players,” said captain Samantha Hoegle ’17. “And [the European teams] are very experienced so they challenged us a lot [and] in different ways than you would see here because the style of the game is just generally different there.”
One of the biggest challenges the team faced was quickly adjusting to playing outside on a full-size field. Throughout the winter, the team had practiced indoors, usually in Farley Field House and Morrell and Sargent Gymnasiums.
“We did speed training and lifts throughout the winter to get our bodies fit. As far as tackling, we didn’t start until we got there, but everyone was ready for it and excited to play,” said captain Cristina Lima ’17.
“People worked really hard this offseason. Watching our team play in Europe, I was astonished by how much improvement there has been since the start of the fall. I was so surprised,” Hoegle said.
The tour also gave the team opportunities to experience playing in large stadiums of fans as Europe has such a prominent rugby culture.
“There were people there who decided to come and watch the game. We got on the metro afterwards and people would see our rugby jackets and talk to us about rugby because it is so respected there,” said Lima.
“[The team] got to experience the camaraderie of rugby players worldwide,” said Mathews. “After each match, both teams shared a meal, sitting together and bonding with each other over stories spoken in less-familiar languages.”
Some of the players also attended a professional men’s rugby game while in Toulouse, France.
“It was amazing. It was just such a high level of rugby,” said Hoegle. “They are just so awesome and we had people watch the game and learn something and then we had practice that afternoon and some people immediately did something they learned from watching the game.”
The team visited Sitges and Barcelona in Spain, as well as Perpignan, France and occasional downtime afforded the team a chance to immerse itself in a variety of the local cultures and communities.
“We did some get afternoons free and a day free in France to walk around and relax,” said Lima. “Rugby is pretty taxing so it’s good to just rest. It was also a great time for our time to bond. I know, as a captain, I appreciated this opportunity to get to know players in younger grades.”