Moving on up: Women’s rugby preps for program changes

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By Kevin Noonan, QBSN Chairman

Just three seasons into the program’s existence, the Quinnipiac women’s rugby team seems destined for great things in its 2013 season.

The Bobcats were one win away from the national championship match in the 2012-13 season, ultimately finishing in third place and gaining respect throughout the national rugby community.

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

But don’t let the third-place finish fool you; this squad does not seem too concerned about backing up its performance once again.

“We don’t look anything ever as, ‘OK, last year we got third. This year we have to win the championship,’” head coach Becky Carlson said. “It’s basically approaching every single game one game at a time and not getting ahead of yourself. That philosophy clearly worked for us last year and it’s going to stay like that.”

Quinnipiac finished with an overall record of 15-1, with the lone blemish coming as a 60-22 loss to Winona State in the national semifinal in Stanford, Calif.

That run in the Emirates Airline USA Rugby Women’s Division II National Championship has only provided a positive building block for the Bobcats as they prepare for this season, according to senior Colleen Doherty (Ashburnham, Mass.).

Quinnipiac’s schedule for this season is arguably one of the hardest they have ever seen; it can be viewed as one of the most difficult in the country.

“It will help prepare us better, we will be in a lot more closer games,” Doherty said. “It will kind of test us, and I think it will be good. I think we’ll grow from it and learn a lot about ourselves.”

Four of the 11 games on the schedule feature teams that qualified in the Division I bracket of the USA Rugby National Championship. Featured among this group is Norwich University, who reached the championship game but fell short to Penn State. Virginia and Army both advanced to the second round of the tournament, while West Chester lost to Penn State in the first round.

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

Not only do they face more Division I teams in their jump in the USA Rugby breakdown, but they also have to face more new competition as well as make one long trip out to Air Force in Colorado.

“We have a lot of high expectations even though we have one of the hardest schedules in the entire nation,” Doherty said.

Looking for greater competition, the Bobcats also moved to the Northeast Rugby Conference from the Tri-State Conference in a quest for the best competition.

No matter who the opponent may be, one player who is on everyone’s radar is sophomore Natalie Kosko (Sebastian, Fla.). Kosko continues to be the catalyst in the Bobcats’ offense as she combines a package of fiery speed and strength to mow down the opposition.

Kosko’s impressive 2012-13 season even earned her a nomination on USA Rugby’s U-20 roster, along with freshman Maggie Myles (Emmitsburg, Md.), as they faced the best competition in the world. After the tournament, Kosko was named to the U20 Nations Cup “Five to Watch.”

All the returning Bobcats add to that experience at the USA Rugby level. Twelve members of last year’s tournament team are back for another season as they look to move further in the tournament once again.

It is these returning Bobcats that have helped the freshmen class almost seamlessly enter the Quinnipiac program.

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

Photo by Matt Eisenberg

The Bobcats’ coaching staff no longer has to completely teach the game of rugby to each player; they are able to talk rugby from day one.

“We used to have to teach athletes and now we’re teaching athletes and rugby players, so it’s good and the pace of preseason was a lot quicker than in the previous years,” Carlson said. “The returners are embracing the freshmen.”

Doherty notes how easily the freshmen have meshed with the returners.

“They fit in right away and they are really willing to work and to adapt because even though a lot of them came from different types of background and styles of rugby, they’ve all been willing to buy into the QU rugby experience,” Doherty said.

Freshmen like Myles and the powerhouse sophomore Kosko have already gotten off to a great start, blowing out Eastern Illinois University 65-7 on Aug. 31 and winning 35-14 over Air Force this past weekend.

Kosko had a career-high five tries in the game while juniors Elisa Culler (Palm Bay, Fla.) and Shannon Durkin (Oakland, Calif.) each added two apiece.

It was the largest defeat ever for Quinnipiac over Eastern Illinois, and first in the rugby 15s format as the Bobcats lost 66-3 to the Panthers back in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season.

“I think it shows how much we’ve grown and developed as a team,” Doherty said. “I think that we’ve always considered EIU one of our rivals and on an equal playing field.”

Returning the favor on the Panthers in blowout fashion showed the 180-degree turn the Bobcats have had since year one, according to Doherty.

Fellow teammate Durkin had a similar feeling on the win over the Panthers and what it means to the growth of the rugby program in a short amount of time.

“It’s crazy because you don’t think how much you’re actually going to grow every year, but everyone keeps improving year after year,” Durkin said. “It’s amazing to watch and how far we’ve come from so little to so much.”