By JJ Yang

With muddy uniforms in varying shades of black and yellow, the UC Santa Cruz women’s rugby team may still bring to mind images of the Bad News Bears. But at least this year, they have a national title to defend.
The team hosted its Slugfest tournament Saturday, inviting squads from Humboldt State, San Luis Obispo and Sacramento State to participate in the day-long event.
Overall, the Slugs finished 1-3, but by all accounts the performance was a success.
"We were sloppy and unorganized," said senior Megan Healy. "But the majority of the girls were playing in their first games, and it was a good learning experience for them."
Coach Alex McKenzie agreed.
"It was not the cleanest game," McKenzie said. "But the girls did a good job of tackling and running."
Although the squad emerged as national champions last year, the loss of six starting players has definitely had an impact on this year’s team. The team has had to recruit new players to fill in the gaps.
"The returning players should help out a lot and fill the void," McKenzie said. "The veterans should provide some on-field guidance and help the new players learn the ropes."
Part of learning the ropes in rugby is dealing with injury. Just ask senior Mercedes Evangelista, a four-year veteran who had to sit out with a shin injury.
"While I was playing a game, someone stepped on my shin and tore the muscle off my bone," Evangelista said. "It was a freak thing."
It’s this brutality, however, that these girls feed off of.
Healy said, "It’s empowering and exciting, being able to take them down. We like to be aggressive."
Despite the success the team has had, funding has always been scarce. Even last year, getting to the national championship was a struggle.
"We had to pay for everything ourselves," Healy said. "Hotels, gas, food, you name it, we were supposed to be reimbursed but we weren’t."
Only through hours of fundraisers and parental support did the team manage to fund the trip. Things look more optimistic this year, as Referendum 23, which passed with a 63 percent majority in the 2006 spring elections, has provided some relief.
"The referendum has definitely helped us a lot this year," Healy said. "It’s given us the money to travel, and just run a successful program."
The additional finances have also resulted in new uniforms.
"We used the men’s old jerseys for four years," Healy said. "It’s good to finally have uniforms of our own." Rugby may be rough but these girls say it’s all in the name of friendly competition.
"We have girls from other teams staying at our houses," Evangelista said. "We’re just so friendly with them."Healy added, "I absolutely love these girls; they’re just amazing to be around."
Sara Foley, a rookie who never played rugby before, is excited to be part of the team.
"The game is intense but it’s really fun," Foley said. "I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year."