Getting rugged: Bouchard, Lewis kick-start Mesa State women’s rugby team
The same sport for men is often played by a different set of rules for women.
Frankly, women are getting tired of it.
A rough-and-tumble group at Mesa State College is changing the notion that women can’t play as aggressively as men by starting a women’s rugby team.
“Even though they try to make it equal for men and women, they still make women’s sports wussier,” said freshman Bobby Bouchard. “Rugby is cool because they don’t do anything, we play the same amount of time as the guys, and the same rules as the guys.”
Bouchard and Mackenzie Lewis are ruggers who started the women’s rugby program after playing on the same select rugby team in Denver.
They didn’t plan to start a team in college. It just worked out that way.
Bouchard enrolled at Mesa to join her two sisters. Lewis wanted to play soccer.
“I was going to try out for the soccer team and things fell through with the coach, so I said, ‘I’ll play rugby,’ ” Lewis said. “I wasn’t quite ready to give it up.”
It didn’t take long for Lewis and Bouchard to figure out they still had more rugby to play. Once they decided to put a team together, a coach from their select team helped them get in contact with biology professor Kristy Duran.
“One of their coaches was a friend of mine that I played rugby with in Boulder,” Duran said. “She heard that (Lewis and Bouchard) were coming to Mesa and she gave them my name, and said ‘Get ahold of Kristy, she’d love to coach you.’ “
After the three met, Bouchard and Lewis vowed to get players together and start practicing. Bouchard and Lewis went dorm to dorm, room to room to recruit. They posted fliers all over campus.
The results were staggering.
“It was about two weeks after we met, I was walking to my class and I passed where they were practicing and they had like 25 or 30 girls,” Duran said. “I was really impressed with their recruiting skills, they did a fantastic job.”
The selling points were pretty easy. They were looking for girls who were athletic, aggressive and loved the idea of getting to tackle someone without getting in trouble.
All of that appealed to Amanda Stahlke, a freshman from Smoky Hill High School. Stahlke played lacrosse and field hockey in high school, and recalled always being aggravated by quick whistles when play got rough.
“I used to get really frustrated, especially with lacrosse, because it’s not lacrosse if you aren’t hitting,” Stahlke said. “When I started rugby, my size was quite a rude awakening because I’m the smallest girl on the team at 5-foot-2, 110 pounds, and I’ve been thrown around by my teammates, but I loved it from the first day.”
Stahlke is a typical women’s rugby player for Mesa, a high school athlete who had no rugby experience but was ready to try something new.
“I have a pretty high stress schedule with school. I’m a double major with biology and environmental science, so I tend to over-commit myself,” Stahlke said. “Rugby has been the best outlet. It’s been so healthy and so much fun to come out and tackle some girls to get that aggression out.”
The physical play has taken its toll at times. Stahlke sustained her first concussion playing rugby.
“It was surprising to me that it really is such a tough sport,” Stahlke said. “One of the first days, I tackled a girl and broke her wrist, so we are finding out that we are still human beings. For a while (rugby) made us feel pretty untouchable, but it’s all been worth it.”
Aside from a few injures, the team, in only its first season, is pretty good. The Mavericks tied their first match against the Boulder Babes, and since then they’ve defeated Western State, Colorado School of Mines and again took down Western State Saturday at Canyon View Park. The Mavericks won 58-0 to improve their record to 3-0-1.
Ron Hall has been around rugby for 44 years as a coach and player. He’s helping coach the Mesa team, and said the natural athleticism, in addition to a willingness to learn, has transformed a team made up of rookies into solid rugby players.
“They want to learn it because they don’t come out of a football program, they know they don’t know how to tackle or how to pass,” Hall said. “So they try harder to learn those skills, and their commitment to this game is amazing.”
With the majority of the team freshmen, their commitment should only grow. Lewis said she’s already been in touch with her alma mater, Chaparral High School, about Mesa’s rugby team.
“We are already recruiting our high schools back home now that we have a team,” Lewis said. “We want to let people know that if they come to Mesa they don’t have to quit playing rugby.”
The team has received support from the college to buy uniforms and equipment, and plans to play a full schedule next fall. The team hosts Western State and the Boulder Babes in April.
“I don’t think you need a university or a lot of money to make a successful program, and we aren’t up there with Colorado and Colorado State yet, but I think we can get there,” Lewis said. “We have potential and a lot of people on board to help us get there.”