Apr 032012
Authors: Austin Briggs

As a player for the CSU women’s rugby team in 2008, Jenna Middleton helped her team make it to the regional finals, only to see the run for the championship cut short when the team gave up a 25-point lead to lose to Truman State University by a heartbreaking single point in what would be the final game of the season.

Four years later, Middleton is seeing history repeat itself, albeit from a different perspective. She is now coaching, along with Jozy Gessner and Amanda Kehmeier, the CSU women’s rugby team as they head off to Chico, Calif. on Thursday to compete in the Division I Pacific Mountain Conference regional playoffs.

“I learned a few lessons from that game that have stuck with me,” Middleton said. “Coming back as a coach, I was excited to try again.”

One of those lessons, Middleton said, is a wariness to use substitutes even when the team has a comfortable lead. Unlike in some sports, in rugby, once a player is substituted, he or she cannot play the rest of game.

Since 2008 the women’s team has moved from Division II to Division I. They finished last season ranked ninth in the nation after making it to the sweet 16 of the tournament.

The 2-2 Rams, now ranked 18th, will play UC Davis on Friday, followed by the winner of Chico State and U.C Barbara on Saturday. If the Rams win both games, they will go on to the sweet 16 tournament two weeks from now in California.

“I think we have a really good shot (of winning),” Middleton said. “We have a lot of really fit, agile athletes. Going down in altitude is an advantage, and we have a lot of endurance.”

Senior team captain and psychology major Wendy Sherman said the team has been increasing the intensity of their workouts the last few weeks in the form of two practices every day. Mornings are for conditioning, followed by practice at night.

She expressed confidence the team has hit its peak and is ready for back-to-back games this week.

“The way we’ve been playing in warm-up games, I’m really confident we can go out and win,” Sherman said.

Psychology and sports medicine senior Leah Wylie has played for the women’s team for two years. Prior to that, she knew nothing about rugby –– a friend on the team convinced her to join. After some initial doubt, Wylie fell in love with the sport and now recruits other women to play. She encouraged women interested in playing rugby to get a hold of someone on the team.

“It can be a little intimidating,” Wylie said of the full-contact sport. “We have girls of all skill levels. We love teaching new people and helping them fall in love with the game.”

Collegian writer Austin Briggs can be reached at news@collegian.com.

What: CSU women’s rugby team competing in Division I Pacific Mountain Conference regional playoffs.
Where: Chico, Calif.
When: Friday, Apr. 6 at 11 a.m.
Opponent: UC Davis. If the Rams win, they will play the winner of Chico State and UC Barbara on Saturday for a chance to progress to the sweet 16 national tournament.

About the women’s rugby team:
20 players on team
15 players from each team are on the playing field during games
Team is currently ranked 18th in the nation in women’s Division I Rugby
Won West Union Conference in 2011 and was ranked 9th in the nation
Won Wayne State Nebraska Tournament in 2009 and 2010

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