After 18 months without competition, the current national champion women’s rugby team hosted Colby for an unofficial scrimmage on April 24. The scrimmage resembled a traditional match, the only significant difference being a shift from a two-halves format to a four-quarter model that gave players more opportunity for rest.
Despite losing 35-16, Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews emphasized the importance of this matchup for her team this spring.
“It was so rewarding to see them play and to see all their hard work,” Mathews said. “It was incredible, really.”
The women’s rugby team currently has 24 players on campus, which allows for flexibility when scheduling scrimmages and allows players to opt-out of intercollegiate competition should they choose.
“The only issue was waiting for Bowdoin to allow … rugby scrimmages,” Mathews said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Of course, you would only want to play teams that are safe and within the same testing protocol, so we were limited to Colby because Bates doesn’t have a women’s rugby team at this time.”
With an abundance of underclassmen on the team, Mathews was focused on player development and simulating experiences similar to regular-season games for those who had yet to compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The crucial part of this scrimmage was [providing] game-like experience for new players,” Mathews said. “The goal was truly for them to play the game—to take risks, to make mistakes, to learn and to have an abundant amount of fun.”
Being able to host both fall and spring practices without competition has given the team an opportunity to focus on areas of the game that they typically don’t have the opportunity to when they are preparing for a match every Saturday.
“Upperclass [students] on the team, kids on the field when our team last won the championship, are working on moving their skills up the ladders,” said Mathews. “The bullseye is on Bowdoin’s back, so they’re just continuing to work hard, working out in the weight room and coming to every single practice. For the younger players, it’s just an introduction to the game. It’s contact safety, understanding the physical nature of the game and learning the fundamentals.”
Despite the fact that most of the team’s first years are living off-campus, Mathews and the rest of the team have made intentional efforts to ensure first years remain involved.
“We meet on Zoom and have team-led DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] meetings, but we also have Friday night fun nights where someone on the team will lead informal game nights to get our players engaged,” Mathews said. “We also have buddy groups that are responsible for really keeping those first years connected. I, myself, and my assistant coaches also reach out to the first years because it’s been a tough year … We want the off-campus kids to know that we are still thinking of them and that they are connected.”