RWU women’s rugby takes Beast of East title

Andrew Wuebker

Sports Editor

While the Roger Williams University club women’s rugby team was cladding their namesake Hawks in a tournament last weekend, the team appeared to take the form of something much more menacing… a bunch of beasts.

On Sunday, April 23, the RWU club women’s rugby team won their third consecutive Beast of the East tournament with a 38-5 victory over State University of New York at Albany.

“[I was] completely overwhelmed with pride and joy for the team,” said senior captain Sadia Crosby on her immediate emotions in the championship-clinching moment. “It was one of those brief moments where everything comes together perfectly and I wouldn’t have wanted to share the victory with any other group of women.”

For the Hawks, this Beast of the East title is only the latest accomplishment in a string of impressive successes for the women’s rugby program as a whole.

Before this season began, the team moved up from Division III to Division II after winning their previous two Beast of the East titles back-to-back from 2013-14. Most impressive however, is the program’s two national championships it boasts from the 2007 and 2014 seasons.

Ultimately, the team’s consistency and dominance of its opponents from season to season began to culminate into further good fortune for the program in early February. It was announced then by the university athletic department that the women’s rugby program would attain varsity status in the 2018-19 academic year.

In last weekend’s tourney held in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the Hawks’ brilliance was on full display.

Roger Williams was one of 14 teams in the Division II Beast of the East field, but separated themselves from the rest of the pack rather early with blowout victories over their first three opponents: a 24-0 shutout over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a 50-12 pounding of University of Vermont and a 71-0 embarrassment of University of New Hampshire.

Despite the Hawks’ ability to cruise in the first three rounds of play, RWU still had various concerns as the tourney progressed.

“A main concern was the number of games we had and our depth,” said head coach Kevin Martell, who took reign over the team last fall. “I knew we would have to call on reserves throughout the tournament.”

Crosby echoed her coach’s concerns and referred to maintaining the team’s “stamina” and keeping “defensive shape” as key areas that’d need to be addressed, but Crosby says they were ready, crediting an intense strength and conditioning program drawn up by their coach.

“I knew that stepping into a higher division would mean a much more difficult tournament than the team was experienced with, so I implemented a strength and conditioning program that the players began as soon as they returned from winter break, consisting of three sessions per week,” Martell says. “We remained training inside until the weather permitted us to move outdoors and continue our training on the pitch three times a week from 5 p.m. until it’s too dark to see. The whole team stepped up to the challenge and our fitness really paid off down the stretch in this tournament.”

The Hawks’ hard work would be tested by their stiffest opponent yet in the semifinal round versus Providence College. But what were once mild concerns quickly became afterthoughts as the team got contributions from top to bottom in a grit and grind 26-19 victory.

“Providence College probably offered us our hardest test in the tournament,” Martell said. “Our defense had been absolutely solid all weekend, but the backline on PC has some very good players that were able to open space and score tries. Our women made some amazing plays and we came out on top.”

After the win over PC, RWU made quick work of SUNY Albany and the Hawks became the title-winning beasts once again.

“This tournament was a great milestone for the program and the best possible ending for this stellar year and our graduating seniors,” Martell said.

But it begs the question, what makes this team so good year after year?

“There are many things that make this program so good, but it all starts with recruitment to make the team grow,” said senior Madison Newton. “The team’s past success definitely makes it more desirable to be a part of as well as joining the community we create. We are such a close-knit team that it reflects on and off of the field. It’s also each person’s individual dedication to the team, our coach pushes us hard during practice but it’s our job to push ourselves on our own.”

While the Hawks’ winning culture is crafted from past and present successes paired with a willingness to be great, the players—seniors in particular—see rugby as so much more than that. Family seems to be the predominant theme.

“Easily the biggest takeaway from rugby is simply your teammates that become your family,” said senior Morgan Quagliaroli. “We’re so incredibly close and I know these people will always be in my life. I’ve played all different sports my entire life, and there is no stronger bond than the bond between a rugby team. I’d trust any one of them with my life. Everyone is constantly putting their body on the line to protect each other in a game, life is no different. My teammates are what make this the best game in the world.”

It’s safe to say that many of the team’s seniors will miss the scrums, mauls, and lineouts that rugby has given them over their four years, Newton included.

“Of course I’m going to miss it all after graduation,” she said. “I’ve been able to play my favorite sport with girls who have become my family over the past four years, nothing will ever compare to that.”

Although they are graduating, Crosby believes what the seniors on the team have done in their four years will leave behind a legacy for future players on the team to follow.

“A love for the game of rugby, pride in my teammates, and contentment in knowing that our legacy will live on in the players that come after us,” said Crosby. “Our time may be coming to pass but the memories will never fade.”