The two-year plan

By Kevin Noonan, QBSN Chairman

Almost everyone at Quinnipiac knows that the men’s ice hockey team advanced to the Frozen Four and eventually the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history. Less students are aware about the Acrobatics and Tumbling team placed second in the NCATA Championships at the TD Bank Sports Center.

Photo by Matt Eisenberg
Photo by Matt Eisenberg

Even fewer students know about the best kept secret at Quinnipiac. The women’s rugby team’s run to the 2013 Emirates Airline USA Rugby Women’s Collegiate DII National Championship remains a point of pride, yet  goes without much recognition.

The accomplishment is exciting for members of the rugby squad, but the fact that there is little student support is taken with slight disappointment.

“It can been frustrating to an extent, but at the same time, we’re just playing the game we love,” senior fullback Krystin Orrico said. “As long as we know where we’re going that’s all that matters.”

Just two and a half years ago, an e-mail was sent to the entire student body at Quinnipiac stating that there would be open tryouts for a women’s rugby team on campus. About 60 students, including Orrico, jumped at the opportunity to play the sport new to the school.

Prior to becoming the starting fullback, Orrico wanted to play soccer at the collegiate level but took a different route.

“Originally I wanted to go to college for soccer but I changed my mind at the last minute so given the opportunity to play rugby I jumped on it, and I fell in love with the sport instantly,” Orrico said.

It began a transition for Orrico and the current 11 women that still remain on the team, seeing the program in its entirety. It also began a transition for head coach Becky Carlson, the first year head coach of this Bobcat squad.

Carlson said when she was interviewing for the job that she told the committee that they should not hire her if they did not envision the program being one of the top teams in the country by the second or third year.

“I don’t think there was one person in the room that believed me,” Carlson said. “It was all my colleagues, and they believe in the program now. I don’t think it is something that seemed feasible to anyone but at the time me, and now it’s still at times, seems to be something that is surreal for other people.”

Coming out to the program were women with all different athletics backgrounds, from cheerleading to field hockey to lacrosse.

“Having never played the game, they’re playing up against a lot of teams that have girls who have been playing since high school,” Carlson said. “Regardless of or not they’re club programs, they have a lot of rich experience in the game, and I just have a bunch of crossover athletes that just want to play the game,” Carlson said.

After the first season of the program, they finished just 3-6-1 and were blown out of several matches. But in their first offseason, Carlson told her Bobcats that success was just around the corner, and all they had to do was follow the example set by her and assistant coach Michelle Reed.

“I said, ‘If you really want to win, you can win, and I’m going to teach you how to do that. Trust what’s happened in the process. If you trust Coach Reed and I to take you through this process and you do everything that we tell you to do, you can be a national champion.’”

After telling the team this, Carlson said that about 85 percent of the squad actually believed that it was possible. According to Orrico, the players weren’t positive, but they trusted Carlson.

“Our coach always told us she was going to get us this far and we were kind of like ‘Oh we’re still new to the game, we don’t know,’” Orrico said. “But we worked really hard on it and did want it.”

Photo by Matt Eisenberg
Photo by Matt Eisenberg

With the program at the NCAA Division I level, it brought the opportunity for the school to recruit players that had far more rugby experience, and players like Orrico feared they might not be on the team for long.

“I thought that we’d be able to get far in the first two years, but I just wasn’t sure if I’d be on the team still when we got this far,” Orrico said.

But Carlson was not just going to abandon the players she spent a whole season teaching the sport of rugby to, and she trusted their abilities as rugby players to compete.

Despite low expectations of the Bobcats in the 2012 season, they opened the season with a huge victory over Eastern Illinois using the Rugby 7s format, winning the series 2-1. And the victories have kept coming, propelling the Bobcats to the national semifinals at Stanford, where they lost to Winona State University.

Yet, very few people are aware of the remarkable season the rugby team has had.

“It would be tremendous to bring home the championship and represent the university, it would just be another chapter in the great story that not too many have caught on to,” Carlson said.

Sudden success can sometimes be difficult for teams to handle, but these Bobcats have not changed their demeanor throughout the season, according to Carlson.

“We’ve maintained a level of humility this whole way through that we don’t just automatically think we will win, but we believe we are capable to win. That’s the biggest thing that we play every game like it is the national championship,” Carlson said.

Even though this kind of success may only have existed in the imaginations of players like Orrico, it is completely a reality.

“It’s just a huge accomplishment to see my team work this hard and to put in this much effort; it’s kind of just like a pay day” Orrico said. “Everything I’ve worked for is coming to an end. It’s just a really good feeling.”

There was one who thought this kind of success was possible from the get-go, no matter how far-fetched it may have seemed at the time.

“Two years, that’s a little extreme, I think, for saying we’d win the national championship, but I’ve definitely thought that since day one,” Carlson said.