The Quinnipiac women’s rugby team stepped onto the field for the first time as a Division I varsity sport on Sunday.
And despite a 51-0 loss to Rutgers University, history was made as the Bobcats opened a new chapter in Quinnipiac Athletics.
“Both myself and [Assistant coach Michelle Reed] have been involved with rugby and the advancement of the movement; it’s just another stepping stone,” Quinnipiac head coach Becky Carlson said. “I think it is exciting for the university. It’s something new; something interesting.”
In August 2010, the university announced they would be adding a women’s rugby team as a varsity sport.
During the 2010-11 academic year, the rugby team competed in scrimmages, but Sunday marked the first official game for the new program.
Sophomore scrum-half Jacqueline Lilly said that she could tell Sunday’s game had a different feeling than the scrimmages.
“It was exciting to go out there and play the first game and for it to be an actual game,” Lilly said. “We’ve played previous games but they didn’t really count. But going out and playing our first game was exciting.”
Carlson also knew the game had a special meaning for her players.
“It was exciting for them to go out there and wear Quinnipiac’s colors,” Carlson said. “There were a lot of nerves in that game. I think that we’re going to see an entirely different product by the end of the season. I think overall the fact that the game happened for Quinnipiac and that we can represent the NCAA at the Division I level is the most important aspect here.”
Not only is Quinnipiac making history in its own athletic community, but also in the entire NCAA.
The NCAA recognizes women’s rugby as an emerging sport – a sport that must gain championship status by having a minimum 40 varsity NCAA programs for individual sports and 28 Division III varsity programs for team sports within 10 years or show steady progress toward that goal.
Currently there are only five NCAA varsity women’s rugby programs. Quinnipiac and Eastern Illinois are the only two Division I programs in the country.
On Saturday the Bobcats will face Eastern Illinois in the first varsity Division I matchup.
Carlson, who played for Eastern Illinois and was a former assistant coach there, is looking forward to facing her former team.
“There’s a lot of history wrapped up in this game,” Carlson said. “Never before has Eastern played a familiar face on the visitor side of things and they’re going to be playing against us, which is really exciting.”
Lilly said she is looking forward to hosting a game at Quinnipiac on Oct. 2 but said the Eastern Illinois game is what she is pumped up for the most.
“As much as I’m excited for all the other games I’m really excited for Eastern Illinois because they’re the only other [Division I] team and every time we play them it’s just more history added to the books, so it’ll be cool to be a part of that,” Lilly said.
While the team is still new and gaining experience on the field, Carlson added that she looks forward to the team becoming a part of the Quinnipiac student-athlete population.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the community reacts to it, and I think it’s been incredibly positive so far and that’s the biggest concern is that they have good, positive experience from this,” Carlson said. “And I want to win. I’m looking forward to the NCAA Division I games.”