This season has been a whirlwind from the very start. We were hot off a record-setting 7s season but had also recently graduated half our starting 15s squad. Recruitment, especially in the forward pack, was a huge focus for us early in September so that we could play with a full 23-person roster. Thankfully this was hugely successful and we inaugurated a rookie class of nearly 21—featuring a promising number of freshmen to carry the future of this club.
Our first game was full of familiar faces as our 12 recently graduated alumnae joined the rest of the ranks decked out in Maize and Blue to take on our current team. The alumnae—as usual—turned out to be formidable foes and beat us 50 – 5. Meg Loomis, Aunnica O’Brien, Monica Chen, Deycha Robinson and our very own coach, Shaina Warner, all scored for the Alumnae while Holli Page scored a try for UMWRFC. All in all, it was a highlight of Alumnae Weekend and a great way to catch up with our alumnae.
The following weekend, we traveled to Pennsylvania to take on a challenging game against the women of Penn State. Despite the heat, we played some high quality rugby and the score ended UMWRFC 0 – 103 Penn State. We left feeling exhausted—as anyone would in that heat—but with renewed vigor having set ourselves a new goal: to improve the score when we faced Penn State later in our season.
We also traveled the next weekend, this time we ventured west to face Davenport University on their home turf. Once again, this is traditionally one of our tougher games of the season but some of our rookies got to play for the first time! Roxana Taginya scored for us to make the final score UMWRFC 5 – 122 Davenport.
After this, we finally had a home game. This one was a friendly against Oakland—with some Michigan members playing alongside them—and featuring our newly minted rookies making up an UMWRFC B-side. Two of our rookies scored for the first time, Jill Cwycyshyn and Anna Pasek, and a reliable forward force, Emily Carlson, scored as well. One of our beloved seniors, Jen Bourlier, also scored but while playing for Oakland. The final score of this action packed match was a 20-20 draw.
Our next game, also at home, was an exciting one for us as it was our Pledge-a-Point game, and thus doubled as an excellent fundraising opportunity. After this game, GVSU introduced us to their tradition of having each team name a Player-of-the-Match from the opposing squad, a tradition that we adopted for the rest of our games this season and intend to continue in the future! The final score here was UMWRFC 33 – 22 GVSU with Michigan tries from Alena Olsen and Julia McKean—also named Player-of-the-Match—and conversions completed by Alena and Vicky Whydell.
The following weekend we went on to face some some unfamiliar opponents as Clemson drove up to play us as part of a Midwestern tour celebrating their return to D1 rugby. This took place over fall break and we had a guest appearance by recent graduate Ari Castillo as scrum half. She scored alongside Alena Olsen and Sam Taylordean to rack up a final score of UMWRFC 30 – 20 Clemson. Alena Olsen was named Player-of-the-Match by Clemson’s team and we wished them well for their game against Davenport later that weekend.
At this point in our season it had been almost a month since we last played Penn State, and it was time to see if all the practice had paid off. We played one of our best games of the season with a try from Sam Taylordean and a try and conversion from Alena Olsen as well as a spectacular performance from Dana Nathanson at fullback directing our defensive line. For this feat, she was named Player-of-the-Match by Penn State. The final score demonstrated the hard work and literal blood, sweat, and tears we put in during practice. Showing marked improvement and fulfilling the goal we set early on in the season, we ended UMWRFC 12 – 57 Penn State.
This high led us into a double feature of back-to-back games against Rutgers the following two weekends. The first of these was played at home for us and was a reminder of our last high-stakes game against Rutgers last fall. This time we came away with well-earned victory with tries from Alena Olsen—who also kicked two conversions, Dana Nathanson, Roxy Taginya, and Sam Taylordean, all contributing to a final score of UMWRFC 34 – 5 Rutgers. We waved goodbye knowing that in just over a week we would be seeing these ladies again, but this time on their turf.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate that week and we ended up having less than two hours of practice before we took on Rutgers again, but while driving east we were very aware of how we needed to play and what was at stake. We had some wonderful alumnae support on the sidelines and this helped us rally for a last-minute try tying up the score 22 – 22. Tries were scored by Alena Olsen and Sam Taylordean with our conversion coming from Alena. Overall it was a really tough game for us, but the draw secured our rank as #2 in the Big 10 East and, as Shaina would say, we played Michigan rugby. We drove back looking forward to Big 10 Playoffs the following weekend.
The time had at last come for the Big 10 East to meet the Big 10 West in South Bend, Indiana. We were set to play #3 in the West, Indiana University, whom we have not played in 15s in quite a while. In frigid temperatures, we strove to end our season on a high note which we did in a 17 – 17 tie with tries scored by some of our rookies once again! Lea Boureland and Anna Pasek were these rookies while our other try came from vet Sam Taylordean and a conversion from Dana Nathanson. At the banquet following the matches our very own Alena Olsen was named Big 10 Back-of-the-Year.
All in all, despite injuries to some of our veteran players and having a team on the relatively young side, everyone stepped up to the plate to make this a successful season. Our vets worked hard in leadership positions to get our rookies, especially our forwards, up to snuff and we had some players diversify to play both as backs and forwards—a rather exciting turn of events! We now turn our attention to 7s season and what we hope will be an action-packed return to nationals.