The women’s rugby team’s weekly practices involve drills and fast-paced scrimmages. After four successful years, women’s rugby is making the transition to being a Division I team in the Northern California Rugby Football Union. Having advanced in league ranking, the team now faces the challenge of operating a Division I team on a limited budget. Photo by Prescott Watson.

The women’s rugby team has done what no team on campus has done before. Despite the lack of both financial support and a varsity title, the team has reached the very top of the sport. Though it is not yet a part of NCAA, the team is now Division I in the Northern California Rugby Football Union, making it UC Santa Cruz’s only Division I team.

After winning two USA Rugby (USAR) Division II National Championships in the last four years, the UCSC women’s rugby team is finally making the big jump into Division I of the Northern California Rugby Football Union (NCRFU).

“We had been expecting it,” Coach Alex McKenzie said. “We had won some titles in the last couple of years, so we figured this would be the next step, although it is a tough step to take.”

This season, the team will be competing in the best division in the country and against some of the strongest sports schools in the state, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Chico State and UC Davis.

“We’ll be facing schools that are successful and that have more financial support for sports,” said sophomore team captain Maeci Brown. “Those are teams that have recruited their players from high schools.”

While the women’s team will face its biggest challenge yet with its first Division I games in January, the men’s team will be vying for the NCRFU Division II title this year.

Philip Brody, junior president of the rugby club, said that even though the men’s team hasn’t won any championships yet, it can learn from the women’s team’s recent achievement.

“As a team, it’s good to see what it’s like to have a winning tradition,” Brody said. “Having the girls out there working so hard is an example for us. It makes us want to win, too, and that’s our goal this year.”

For both teams, the 40 years of rugby tradition at UCSC has helped them build a sense of school pride toward the university. After all, the rugby club was the first one to call itself the Slugs — but even that hasn’t been enough to gain the distinction of UCSC varsity teams.

As sports clubs, each team receives $3,000 from the university per year.

This money is “pretty much gone by the end of the fall quarter, because of all the trips we have to make [outside of Santa Cruz] to play,” Brown said. “The only bad thing [about not being a varsity team] is that the lack of funding really hurts our growth.”

Because of monetary concerns, the advancement to Division I has not been as cheery as the team would have hoped. Being more competitive calls for a bigger budget that can pay for the preparation a Division I team requires from its players, money that the women’s rugby team does not have.

The men’s rugby team is aware of this necessity, and for that reason, it feels that Division II is the right place for its team at the moment.

“It doesn’t matter whether we’re Division II or Division I, as far as we have a good level of competition,” rugby club junior president Brody said. “And right now, we’re very comfortable being in Division II, because we’re not receiving funding anyway.”

As both teams face a new season next January, the women’s team will continue to work to get good results — both on and off the field.

“This season, we have to be much more committed, which means attending every practice and helping with the fundraising events,” women’s team captain Brown said. “We need to be there for the team, only this time, it has to be 100 percent.”

Although it is still struggling with budget issues and a lack of support, the women’s rugby team is another example of the abilities that exist within UCSC’s sport community. But too often, this success goes unnoticed.

“It would be cool if we could get more people to watch our teams play,” Brody said. “We need to keep emphasizing the importance of college sports. This is our way to celebrate being Slugs.”