Southern Oregon University’s women’s rugby club team, which mounted a fast and furious fund-raising effort this spring just to participate in the Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament in New Orleans, came away from the experience over Memorial Day Weekend having accomplished part of its ultimate goal – winning the final two games of the tournament.
Losses in the first two rounds eliminated the SOU team, first from the 16-team championship bracket and then the eight-team consolation bracket. But SOU found its footing in the four-team Challenge Bowl Bracket – which team members jokingly referred to as the “Loser Bowl” – and came away from the tournament with a trophy, following its 19-12 victory over Clemson University in the Challenge Bowl Bracket’s championship game.
“Their scrappy and physical play embodies the tenacity of this group of women,” said Mike Fredericks, who traveled to New Orleans to watch his daughter Izabella and her SOU teammates. “SOU should be proud of the way they represented the university and state of Oregon.”
The women’s rugby club, like all of SOU’s sport clubs, is led by student-officers who play on the team. The student-officers handle logistical details that range from financial planning to fund-raising to coaching to safety to inclusion. The 2021-22 academic year began at SOU with no rugby team, coach or schedule, but with five women – seniors Na’Ai Solomon-Lewis (the player-coach), Elizabeth Rose , Emma Kinler and Hannah Kramer, and sophomore Izabella Fredericks – who were determined to resurrect the club that had been put on hold by two years of the pandemic. They practiced together through the winter, then in the spring began recruiting other players and eventually cobbled together a brief home and road schedule with other club teams from the Pacific Northwest. The team earned its invitation to the Collegiate Rugby Championship tournament by winning a regional qualifying tournament in Boise.
The low-budget club model under which the SOU rugby team operates is common at many universities and colleges, but the national tournament in New Orleans featured teams with very different backgrounds – including some with multiple, full-time coaches, six-figure budgets and double the number of players. Some institutions fielded full varsity teams backed by their athletic departments.
The SOU team raised $20,000 to accept its invitation to the national tournament – more than $10,000 of it in the final month. The team lost, 21 to 10, to No. 2 seed Grand Canyon University in its first-round game, and then lost, 33 to 12, in its consolation-round game to the University of Iowa. SOU then defeated Southern Nazarene University, 29 to 10, in its first round of the Challenger Bowl Bracket, and beat Clemson University, 19 to 12, in that bracket’s championship game.
In addition to its five original players, SOU’s national tournament team was made up of Beyoncé Garcia, Maeve Moore, Emily Preston, Hailey Conner and Sonya Goddess.
“I got to witness and experience the very essence of why I am in this field, or why I get-up every morning with such enthusiasm to do what we call a job,” said Hugues Lecomte, SOU’s director campus recreation. “Every one of our 10 student-players displayed such fantastic values with a can-do attitude from the get-go.
“The team itself played in their own style, self-proclaimed the outcast of the tournament, with one of their own players fulfilling the coach responsibilities,” Lecomte said. “They connected and engaged with many other teams and players during the weekend and they were seen (and heard!) cheering other teams from the bleachers, hugging other players after games, and displaying the best sportsmanship ethics.”