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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Three titles, a fraction of the recognition

Quinnipiac rugby was the school’s first program to win a national championship, but rarely are its achievements recognized
Quinnipiac Athletics, Peyton McKenzie/Chronicle, Photo Illustration by Cameron Levasseur

Becky Carlson sat at home on April 8, 2023, watching the tail end of the Quinnipiac- Minnesota men’s hockey national championship game. Goosebumps appeared on her arms, even retelling the story. By the time the Bobcats scored the game-winning goal, Carlson’s immediate reaction said it all. 

“(My former players) just heard somebody on ESPN say ‘this is Quinnipiac’s first-ever national championship,’” Carlson, the Quinnipiac rugby head coach said. “All of a sudden, (my phone) was like, ‘ding, ding, ding’ and I could do nothing. It was this bittersweet thing.” 

There’s no malice between the rugby and men’s hockey teams. For the rugby alumni who won three consecutive National Intercollegiate Rugby Association titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017, they are proud of all student-athletes who pass through Quinnipiac’s doors. 

However, the problem stems from the fact that the NIRA is not the NCAA, it’s a separate entity. Women’s rugby doesn’t have enough teams to fully compete in the NCAA with only 30 teams across three divisions. Rather, it is considered an NCAA emerging sport. Emerging sports only reach “championship” status once the sports “demonstrate that steady growth has occurred” during a 10-year period, according to the NCAA’s website. 

Here is a comprehensive breakdown of Quinnipiac rugby’s championship era and the fight for respect on campus — the good, the bad and almost everything in between. 


Rugby was not originally a sport on campus. It arrived following the 2009 departure of multiple men’s sports: golf and outdoor track and field. 

It’s only here (along with women’s golf) because of a transformative Title IX sex discrimination suit filed in 2010, which made Quinnipiac only the second school in the country with a Division I women’s rugby squad. The team was officially founded in 2011. 

“I know where Quinnipiac rugby comes from,” former all-American flank Tayler Schussler said. “It was the fruit of the Title IX case against the school where the school was mandated to add two more women’s teams because of the difference in a percentage of the student body.” 

Quinnipiac won its first-ever home game 23-7 against Marist on Oct. 2, 2011. (Matt Eisenberg)

As written by U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill in July 2010, “Quinnipiac University has violated Title IX … by failing to provide equal athletic opportunities to its female students.” 

A four-year legal battle ensued after the school repeatedly appealed (and lost), forcing the new head coach to speak in front of a jury up on the stand. The university settled in 2013. 

Poor conditions ensued with no true home field until 2017. At least not one of regulation size. 

In the years that followed, Carlson said the men’s soccer team took issue with her squad practicing on their field. Rugby also had to share a locker room with the men’s cross country program — “not what we want,” as Carlson remembers. 

Her thoughts were that the team is going to practice regardless of what the other teams thought “because (Quinnipiac) brought us here and (it’s) getting sued, so you might as well let this happen.” 

So rugby would just roam around and find places to play their schedule. 

“We had no home field,” former prop Karee Helgerson said. “We traveled for every game. That was our chip on our shoulder.” 

Former prop/hooker Emma Shipton, who spent her entire freshman season on the road, said that she couldn’t imagine “the seniors who had put so much effort and work into this program and their senior year, they didn’t get to play a home game.” 

It was an uphill battle trying to build up the program in the formative years. Carlson struggled to recruit high school athletes and the rugby facilities were subpar at best. Not the ideal standards for bringing in new talent. 

“Are we entitled to all of the riches? No, but we’re going to operate and have the same resources,” Carlson said. “We didn’t have an academic coordinator working with our team … We would stretch in the parking lot, then I would have my car lights, myself and my assistant coach, we’d put our car lights on.” 

So that’s what it took. 5:30 a.m. practices with the headlights of Carlson’s 2002 Subaru Impreza Sport — the first car she ever owned — providing the only source of light to the team. The team had to scrap its way to earn respect. And it all started with their head coach. 


Her office is small, sharing the limited space with new assistant coach and former player Emily Roskopf. 

The desks are cluttered (they truly aren’t, Carlson just says they are). Above the comfortable plush couch is a wooden shelf, bronzed with pictures and trophies from the winning teams of the past. A box of oranges sits beside the desk on her left. A whiteboard — scribbled with a riddle on it — sits atop the fruit. 

Carlson laughs when she reminisces on her past players. She gets fired up on the sidelines during games. She is openly blunt, both in her storytelling and her social media presence. Her “Fearless Coach” persona speaks her true mind, both on and off the rugby pitch. 

“I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t appreciate what she did and the effort she put in with the administration and getting us to be fairly acknowledged,” Shipton said. “She definitely made me a more confident individual, regardless of if it’s on the field or in the workplace.” 

It’s a common theme for Carlson’s protegees to speak highly of her. 

“She gave me this opportunity and I am forever thankful to her and I learned so much from her outside of rugby (about) being a boss woman,” former all-American center/lock Mikah Maples said. “I will forever be thankful (to her) for giving me this opportunity to come to Quinnipiac and play for such a high-caliber team.” 

Helgerson felt the same way, saying that her former coach is “one of those people that is able to bring out pieces of individuals that they may not even recognize in themselves.” 

“I really respect Becky. When I first arrived here, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect,” Sarah Fraser, deputy athletic director and senior woman administrator, said. “I knew that she was a very successful coach and she has strong opinions and strong values. Obviously that can be a little intimidating, but I think we hit it off pretty quickly.” 

Becky Carlson has led Quinnipiac rugby since the program’s inception in 2011. (Peyton McKenzie)

Carlson was on Quinnipiac’s radar well before the rugby team was even adopted. 

“I remember going to an NCAA convention, I think it was in New Orleans and I met Becky Carlson when she was working for USA Rugby,” former Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald said. “I go back with her many, many years. I was a big fan of adding rugby as a sport at Quinnipiac.” 

After Carlson’s hiring in 2011, she brought a team-first type culture to Hamden, there was no “me-first” players. Athletes work for the team’s goals, not their own personal ones. It was an adjustment for some. 

“She definitely was tough,” former all- American wing Rebecca Haight said. “She held us to a high standard and she built her program a certain way … But we all bought into that, we all shared the common goals and vision that she had and I think that’s what ultimately led us to the success that we had.” 

Roskopf, the team’s new assistant coach, agrees, someone Carlson calls one of the best students of the game she’s ever seen. 

“Our relationship has obviously changed and she pushes me in many ways as a coach that she didn’t as a player,” Roskopf said. “As a player, I didn’t really get to see … how much she does just outside the sport in general.” 


The team was fresh off a 24-19 win over Army West Point in the NIRA Finals in 2015, earning what still is the school’s first-ever national title. 

Was there a rowdy celebration when the team arrived back onto campus? 

“No,” Carlson said. “There was nothing.” 

The Bobcats followed that up with a 46-24 victory against Central Washington a year later. The celebration on campus wasn’t much more than a small police escort and a brief reception on the second floor of the Carl Hansen Student Center. 

Quinnipiac rugby celebrates following its 2015 national championship victory over Army. (Photo contributed by Emily Roskopf)

“We did have a police escort once we got back to campus (from the second national championship),” Haight said. “That was like a really big deal to us at the time. That was really the biggest thing that I remember us getting in terms of recognition. There was never any sort of announcement that was posted to the university broadly. There was never any sort of like, ‘get together and celebrate’ or anything like that.” 

Quinnipiac Athletics posted on its website an announcement promoting the hour-long event at 12:30 p.m. — “when classes were at their peak,” Maples recalled. 

In comparison, the 2022-23 men’s hockey team came home to a packed M&T Bank Arena and numerous celebrations across both the Mount Carmel and York Hill campuses. The campus bookstore still sells merchandise commemorating the championship-winning game. For rugby’s win, the team had to supply their own championship gear because the school-issued gear was filled with spelling mistakes. 

“When we won the national championship, we went and got our own gear from our own vendors,” Carlson said. “(Administration) said ‘you can’t do that.’” 

In 2015, the championship t-shirts the program received and the athletic department’s YouTube video had a conference spelling error (NCWVRA was spelled NCVWRA). In 2016, the team had to open up its own online store to provide tees to the players. In 2017, the school opened up an online shop for friends and families. For all three years, the school did not make the gear available to the student body in the campus bookstore, forcing the team to do all the publicity. 

There were telling signs that Carlson and her players weren’t taken seriously. Maybe it was the merchandise that was spelled wrong. Maybe it was also the school acknowledging the men’s hockey team’s loss to North Dakota in the 2016 Frozen Four in a university-wide email instead of the rugby team’s actual national title. Maybe it was removing half the field’s bleachers without the team knowing. The student-athletes still aren’t sure. 

“We won those championships for ourselves, for each other, for our team, but also for the university,” Haight said. “It definitely didn’t feel like we were really valued and backed by the university as a whole, so that was something that I remember vividly being extremely disappointing and hurtful at the time. It still is today.” 

Quinnipiac rugby lifts the NIRA national championship trophy after topping Dartmouth at home in 2017. (Quinnipiac Athletics)

When people did get together to celebrate the team after the 2016 title, it was a good time, as Carlson remembers. A lot of faculty members were there, the administration trickled in and students even came to support. The celebration was well-attended. 

Except for one major absence: then-university President John Lahey. 

“These girls had just won the first-ever national championship,” Shipton said. “(I realized) that the university’s response wasn’t as excited as (the team) was about winning this championship.” 

The absence of the university president rubbed team members the wrong way and seven years removed, Lahey does not remember the pep rally in question. 

“I have no recollection about any event in the student dining hall to which you are referring,” Lahey wrote in an Oct. 23 statement to The Chronicle. “Unfortunately, with 20-plus athletic teams, I’m sure I missed more than my share of athletic events.” 

It wasn’t just the pep rally, but the entire three-year championship span. 

“There’s a way to go about it to say, ‘Oh, you know what? Maybe we weren’t doing things well and here’s how we can do better,’” Carlson added. “Quinnipiac upper admin just doubled down, like ‘No we don’t, we’re not going to recognize (these championships).” 

In an Oct. 1 email statement to The Chronicle, Lahey wrote that he “really didn’t have anything to do with starting the rugby program” and gave credit to both current and former athletic directors for launching the sport. 

“I organized a group of athletic directors and coaches to start the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association,” McDonald said. “For a while there I was the (unpaid) commissioner.” 

Despite multiple requests to Quinnipiac athletic communications, both director of athletics Greg Amodio and senior associate athletic director Bill Mecca were not made available for comment. 


Quinnipiac rugby became an attraction on campus. Following the 2017 championship win against Dartmouth, student media began to cover the Bobcats more than it had been — something Carlson’s proud to share. Her office still has Chronicle clippings from those championship teams. Those squads were, as Maples called them, “tenacious.” 

“Our practices were not aggressive in a bad way, but just intense in a really good way,” Maples said. “Every time we went out to the field, we were there to practice, we were there to get better. I really enjoyed … being on such a successful team with really, really incredible girls to play with.” 

Those “incredible girls” helped put Quinnipiac rugby on the map. Ilona Maher — the all-American-turned-Olympian — put NIRA on notice. Fly half Flora Poole’s op-ed in The Chronicle showed the student body that student-athletes are able to stand up for themselves. Scrum half Destiny Henry walked onto the program in 2017 and was heralded by her head coach as “the strongest person coming in as a first-year.” 

U.S. Olympian Ilona Maher played for Quinnipiac from 2015-17, winning three national championships. (Quinnipiac Athletics)

“I was pretty thrilled to get to work with a team that had won a national championship and was a contender,” Fraser said about when she was hired by Quinnipiac in 2016. “The time I arrived, they had already won the first one. They were still really strong and that’s my defining memory.” 

Those players were just part of the collective group of Bobcats it took to bring home championships. Those titles, aided by the talent on the pitch, were won with — in Carlson’s eyes — team chemistry, hard work and advocacy. 

“(Carlson) taught me a lot about advocacy, and how to advocate for myself and how to stand up for myself,” Haight said. “Having that drive to not just sit back and accept things for the way that they are, but to really fight for what we deserve.” 

For instance, while the team would fight for respect, their own peers would pour fuel onto the fire. 

That fuel came in the way of YikYak, an anonymous social networking app popular on college campuses that started gaining headway in the mid-2010s. Whether it was the rugby team’s petition to get Lahey to recognize the championship squad, promoting their upcoming games or just trying to get support, it was met with some rather harsh student responses. 

“Nobody cares about women’s sports. It’s not mean it’s just the truth. Get your head out of the sand and realize you won’t be praised for athletic accomplishments the way men are,” one user wrote. 

“I knew some girls team would complain that Lahey did not acknowledge them… Smh u can never win with them,” wrote another.

“Women’s rugby should stop bitching cus they should know nobody gives a fuck bout them,” another user posted. 

Those posts, still in Haight’s camera roll as screenshots, are just a constant reminder that despite the wins and despite the accolades, the respect from their fellow students was less than zero. 

“I know that not everybody cares about sports,” Schussler admitted. “It is something that brings a lot of visibility to a school, especially a small school (like Quinnipiac). I just think that celebrating those (wins) a little bit more would have been a smarter choice.” 


This past April, alumni, family and friends all gathered for a reunion of sorts for the rugby program. Hosted in the M&T Bank Arena, former teammates could bond over their collegiate careers. 

That included reminiscing over NIRA national titles and retelling memorable moments. Then came an ill-worded email from administration. 

“Every single day for the next two weeks after hockey won their national championship, the Quinnipiac newsletter was (about) hockey winning the national championship,” Maples said. “I almost went back and looked to see if (the university) even sent out one thing about us. I just wished that they would have publicized us a little bit more.” 

Following men’s hockey’s victory in the Frozen Four, all Quinnipiac athletic alumni got the same email, which congratulated the university on its first-ever national championship. The email then asked for donations. 

“Then came the email to the alumni association, congratulating all of us as university alumni on our first-ever national championship, which, for all of us, was really a slap in the face of just totally erasing the success of your women’s sports,” Helgerson said. 

So Helgerson didn’t send back any financial donations, but she did respond. 

“Unfortunately you seem to be forgetting that the Women’s rugby team brought home national championships titles for Quinnipiac in 2015, 2016, and 2017,” Helgerson wrote in an email response to the Quinnipiac administration. “We can support our men’s teams and be extremely proud of the hockey team’s amazing achievements but please do not erase the achievements of your women’s teams in the process.” 

And just like the three championship trophies that sit in Carlson’s office, the response from administration was silent. 

“Because they won the national championship in hockey, the non-response is what created this ability for it to stay alive,” Carlson said. “If there had been that response, there would have been no demonstrative event that would make us see such a glaring parity.” 

Quinnipiac athletic communications had no comment in regard to the email, stating that it was not involved in the process. Former Quinnipiac vice president of development and alumni affairs Todd Sloan did not immediately respond for comment. 

“I think the university responded in a poor way,” Helgerson said. “It really would have just taken some Google searches, or a little bit of research into your program to really recognize it’s one little thing, but it has a lot of weight behind it.” 

Fraser disagrees, stating that “the way we view it from an athletic perspective is that women’s rugby is the first national championship we had, and men’s hockey the first NCAA Division I championship.” 


When you ask those who won the university’s first national championship, the rugby alumni will tell you it was the rugby program. Fraser will say it, McDonald will say it, athletic communications will say it. But in the hoopla of the men’s hockey’s title in April, most everyone suddenly forgot — or never even knew in the first place. 

“I think I’m even more mad now than I was back then,” Maples said. “I love Quinnipiac until the day I die, but seeing all of the hype that the school had for (the men’s hockey team) was very frustrating as an athlete who has won two national championships.” 

The men’s hockey banner will forever hang at M&T Bank Arena, as will the championships etched into the scoreboard at the rugby pitch. Both programs are national champions, they’re just not seen at the same level. 

“There is a difference (between NIRA and NCAA),” McDonald said. “That is not the same and never ever will be the same as winning a championship in basketball or hockey or football. It’s never gonna happen.” 

Those championships may never been seen as equal, but for the athletes and coaches that have poured their hearts into the rugby program, they’re just as meaningful. 

“We are the national champions,” Helgerson said. “We are here. We’re loud, we’re proud.”


Graphics by Peyton McKenzie

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Ethan Hurwitz
Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor
Peyton McKenzie
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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  • D

    Deb HelgersonOct 28, 2023 at 11:22 am

    Outstanding article and there is still time for the University to hang the banners honoring the achievements of the women’s rugby team. There is always time to do the right thing.

  • R

    Rob StowellOct 26, 2023 at 9:20 pm

    Excellent work, Ethan.