Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

UC Santa Cruz has many club teams, but only few as successful as the women’s rugby club.

The team headed to Florida for USA Rugby’s 2010 Collegiate Playoffs during the weekend of April 17 and 18, defeating La Salle University and Slippery Rock University to earn their place as one of the final four teams left competing for the title.

While the girls are now enjoying many triumphs in their post-season conquest, there has been no shortage of challenges along the way.

In 2006, the women’s rugby team brought home the national title, beating Plymouth State University in the finals. The following year, Santa Cruz returned to the finals, and placed as runner-ups, second to Iowa State.

“This club is definitely built on successes of the past,” Head Coach Alex McKenzie said. “We’re consistently successful in league play if not in the playoffs every year.”

The team’s run during last season carried them to Regionals, but at the end of the year, the girls said goodbye to many members.

“Last year, we lost about eight to nine seniors, some in very key positions,” Coach Courtney Warner said.

While the loss of the graduating players could have been problematic, the remaining girls have stepped up to fill the empty shoes.

“The younger players have really helped,” McKenzie said. “They’re dedicated, very motivated, and that passes on to their teammates.”

Through the season, the women of the rugby team have proven that they’ve come into their own even without the leaders of last year.

This season the team went undefeated in league play, making it loud and clear that Santa Cruz was not backing down.

Only recently did the Slugs suffer their first loss of the season, to Washington State University during the regional playoffs.

“The first loss of the season was a wake-up call,” McKenzie said. “It helped reform us, reminded us that we need to take it seriously, [that] we need as much time together as possible.”

The girls take their game seriously, which is evident in the hours they spend practicing on Lower East Field.

“The team puts in a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work,” first-year Anne Mari Bowlus said. “We’ve [been practicing] since the beginning of the year.”

Endless days of practice and an inner intensity elevates their love of the game.

“It makes you appreciate what you and your teammates go through to get there,” second-year Alyssa Heckin said.

As a club sport at UCSC, money is hard to come by, but the girls are doing what they can to cover the costs. The rugby team frequently tables on sunny days at Quarry Plaza, holds fundraisers at Woodstock’s Pizza, and asks for donations.

“It’s frustrating when we can’t get funding,” Warner said. “It does get expensive. It all goes without saying, rugby is an expensive hobby.”

Coach Warner finds the effort put forth from all the girls an impressive feat.

“What I’ve seen out of these girls show how driven they are,” Warner said. “They train a lot, and that’s even more stress piled on top of jobs and classes. It definitely brings it to a new level of commitment.”

With the girls heading to Stanford for Championship Weekend at the end of April, the team feels that their regular-season success will prepare them once they hit the fields to represent Santa Cruz’s finest.