WWU women's rugby team in national final four this weekend
[ Editor's note: The photo originally accompanying this article, taken from this collection of photos by Michelle Naranjo of The Western Front, has been removed. Western Today had not asked for permission to use this image, and, that being the case, should not have used it. ]
The Western Washington University Flames women's rugby team is on a roll.
They cruised through the league season without a loss. Then they rolled up against the defending national champions, Washington State University, who ended the Flames' season last year with a 1-point victory.
But 2011 was all about revenge. Western beat WSU -- by 1 point, coincidentally -- and then, in a game that head coach Kerry Griffin calls a "resounding victory," beat WSU again, in regionals, 31-20.
On Saturday, April 30, WWU takes on Radcliffe in the national Division II semifinals in Pittsburgh. In the other semifinal match, Notre Dame takes on Stonehill. The two winners will face off Sunday, May 1, in a fight for the national championship.
"We're the wildhorse," Griffin says. "But I think this is one of those weekends where we think we have as good a chance as anyone else."
Though WWU has been to nationals before, in 2008, the Flames aren't thought of as a traditional rugby power. But still, they sit atop Rugby Magazine's latest Top 25 ranking. Radcliffe is second, Notre Dame third and Stonehill fourth.
Western's run through the tournament has spoken volumes about the character of the team, says Griffin, who played for the Flames as a WWU student and has coached the team for three of the past four years.
Against, George Washington University, Western was forced to play from behind for most of the game. GWU scored just 58 seconds in, and then again before the Flames really knew what hit them, Griffin says. But Western fought hard, eventually rallying back to force overtime.
"That game was really telling as far as what we could do," Griffin says. "When we hit overtime, we just turned it on full blast."
Western went on to win, 20-12.
Their previous game in the tournament, against Claremont, wasn't nearly as close. Despite that Claremont had blown away many of its opponents throughout the year, their game against WWU wasn't really a contest. Western won, 67-5.
No matter how this weekend's games turn out, Griffin is sure the team will enjoy the experience. Rugby is one of those sports whose many players share an instant bond. Rugby is not a mainstream sport, especially in the United States, and players aren't in it for the fame. They tend to share an undying devotion to the sport and to those who play it, Griffin says.
"You can be in any corner of the world, and if you see someone else with a rugby jersey on, there's a certain something you share," she says. "Rugby is a sport where two teams get done battling on the field for 80 minutes, and then they usually get together and break bread and sing songs together. In rugby, you can really get to know the other teams on a personal level."
Being a club sport, rugby players often aren't given the same leeway that players of varsity sports enjoy. Griffin is especially thankful that WWU faculty and staff have allowed her players to get away for the week to compete.
"Without their understanding, we couldn't do this," she says. "I may be proctoring some midterms this week."